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Overnight parking ban affecting homeless population in Missoula

Posted at 2:30 PM, Feb 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-23 19:50:42-05

MISSOULA — The Missoula County Commissioners recently passed an overnight parking ban near the airport.

Business owners complained of trash piling up near vehicles that wouldn’t leave. But for some people, those parked vehicles are their home.

David Lawson Jr., who is currently sleeping in his car near the area, said, “We know it’s not forever, it's for tonight, and maybe tomorrow night.”

Two years ago, he and his dad, David Lawson Sr., headed out on a father-son road trip to Nevada.

Towards the end of the trip, they were pre-approved for a mortgage in New Mexico. But in September, a few days before they planned to leave, the dad felt a severe back pain.

Lawson Jr. said, “I took him to the ER and they said it was lung cancer that started in his left lung, and metastasized in his bones.”

David Sr. was already diagnosed with stage four congestive heart failure. When the second diagnosis came, the two were living in Tijuana, Mexico, and getting care in California.

“They said to put him in hospice, and he said he wanted to die in Montana,” said Lawson Jr.

So they came home to Montana.

“He loves nature, he loves the weather, he loves the smell of this place. This is his home to him. I wouldn't want him to die anywhere else.”

The lung cancer came from years of working with asbestos.

Lawson Jr. dropped out of college and quit his job so he’d have more time to spend with his dad.

“My dad says if you have a car you’re not homeless.”

But without a steady income, and medical bills piling up, they can’t afford an apartment.

That’s how they ended up in their car, and in a trailer on Expressway. Lawson Jr. said the hardest part isn’t even the chemo, or the cold, but the stigma.

He has called 211, the homeless information hot line, and said The Salvation Army would pay their deposit on a place, if they could find one.

“We were facing discrimination for him, because when I would mention that he has terminal cancer, it was almost like his application would go in the trash because they didn’t want him to die in the house.”

He said it's an endless loop trying to find resources that actually help, but they’re still happy, and hopeful.

“In a perfect world, everyone would have a place, everyone wouldn’t have cancer. I know our time’s coming, we’re just holding on to that.”