In the last week I have received several communications and comments concerning the current situation at the First United Methodist Church.
Folks are concerned that the increasing number of transients and ‘unhoused’ individuals once again congregating on the FUMC property will result in the return of the tent/camper encampment, which was recently vacated from the parking lot there.
It is important to point out that the church grounds are private property and the church is not pursuing trespassing violations against the folks congregating there.
The City of Great Falls will not, and should not, seek to remove anyone from church property as long as they are not breaking any laws.
The tent encampment was an entirely different issue from a legal standpoint because the church was in clear violation of City zoning ordinances prohibiting camping in that zoning jurisdiction. That is why the City sought a legal remedy, which was ultimately unnecessary because the church voluntarily removed the encampment before the judge issued a ruling or the issue was litigated in court.
One of the concerns I have heard is that some of the folks hanging out on church property are also obstructing public sidewalks in the area. I relayed that concern to police chief Newton and he has responded that the patrol bureau is aware and that if an “…officer determines individuals to be actively and purposefully blocking sidewalks to impede its use in violation of section 12 of the City Code, we will require them to stop doing so.”
I hope this update and clarification is helpful for those who have questions.