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City closes Depot Park gazebo to the public

by ADRIAN KNOWLER
Daily Inter Lake | January 19, 2023 12:00 AM

Wrapped with orange netting and adorned with no trespassing signs, the gazebo in Kalispell’s Depot Park was closed to the public Wednesday as city officials deal with resident complaints about the presence of the homeless individuals in the structure.

Kalispell City Council learned of the decision to close the gazebo at its Tuesday meeting after City Manager Doug Russell raised the complaints in public. Russell said he hoped the move will prove temporary and anticipated only cordoning off the gazebo until Council can pass ordinances that preserve public spaces while providing access to the public.

The remainder of the park is still open to the public.

Russell cited letters that Council has received with complaints about a concentrated homeless presence in the gazebo, complete with photos and videos of urine and what he described as “fecal material” that were sent to him by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.

He said he’s also received reports about alcohol consumption in the park, a violation of the city’s open container law.

Russell said that next week’s Council’s work session is expected to focus on ordinances addressing the complaints, but felt that the increasing urgency of the situation in Depot Park necessitated immediate action to prevent further illegal activity in the gazebo.

Council is expected to deliberate on ordinances that would prohibit “placement of personal property” or the “erection of structures” in public parks as well as regulations limiting the time people could spend in a park facility without a permit.

Mark, a homeless man who has lived in Kalispell for almost 30 years, described the gazebo as a “blessing” to the city’s homeless population. Mark declined to give his last name and the Street Sense Media guide for reporting on homelessness recommends granting anonymity to homeless sources to minimize retribution or consequences that can come from speaking with the media.

Approaching the gazebo to get a bite to eat Wednesday morning, he was surprised to see it empty.

“That’s all we had,” he said.

Mark felt that closing the gazebo failed to address the community’s concerns.

“The more they kick us out, the more they deal with us,” he said, pointing to what he described as a lack of adult mental health services in Flathead Valley.

Tonya Horn, director of homeless shelter Flathead Warming Center, doesn’t think the move addresses the underlying causes of homelessness.

“They’re just going to move somewhere else,” Horn said Wednesday. “We’re just passing them around because no one can help them.”

Reporter Adrian Knowler can be reached at 758-4407 or aknowler@dailyinterlake.com.