Self-Promoter and Wannabe Politician Greg Strandberg Doesn’t Know Squat About Homelessness

by William Skink

For years now the tireless refrain from chronic self-promoter, Greg Strandberg, has been to loudly bash anyone/anything that doesn’t make his own life better. Framing every issue in this manner is incredibly selfish and borderline narcissistic. But because he’s been obsessively persistent in commenting everywhere in the blogosphere comments are allowed, he is starting to get traction. Even Martin Kidston has lent his new media platform, Missoula Current, so Greg can offer a conservative counterpoint of fiscal restraint to liberal Missoula.

While I agree with some of his positions, and read his blog primarily because Greg now traffics in salacious political operative gossip to further the GOP agenda in Montana, his letter to the editor bashing the homeless shelter for the presence of gutter-punk street kids every summer is one of the laziest, ignorant statements I’ve read lately on homelessness, and downtown Missoula’s half-assed efforts to curb unwanted behavior EVERYONE agrees must be addressed (it’s just the matter of how, like how much, and who pays, where things get thorny).

Here is the statement ignorantly reducing the need for increasing law enforcement to busting transients:

We know the four police officers will cost $374,000 a year and we know that we need them now.

Why do we need them? It’s simple – to deal with the monumental transient problem we have downtown.

We created that problem by building the newfangled homeless shelter, prominently placed on Broadway. My how it draws in the young transients that choose a rag-tag existence of handouts as opposed to hard work!

Police need new officers to deal with this problem, and that’s obvious when the Florence Building is thinking of closing its lobby because the transients loitering out front are so bad.

So I hope the city will get its head out of the development clouds and start focusing on problems at the street level.

Greg, if you really believe “we” created “that” problem of street kids downtown by building a dignified shelter to more safely shelter people experiencing homelessness, not to mention the veteran program that helps vets beyond the impotent bitching of armchair assholes like yourself, then you are ignorant in addition to being an obnoxious self-promoter trying to monetize your online presence with two failed runs at being a politician.

Now, allow me to really answer the question of why gutter-punk train-hoppers and various other sub-strata of drainbow takers proliferate in Missoula around this time of year: it’s because Missoula is a beautiful, vibrant mountain town with a river running through it and a keep-it-weird alcohol/drug fueled nightlife scene that proves to be quite lucrative and entertaining for people on the streets.

Put simply, there are a lot of well-meaning suckers and enablers in this town.

Seven years of experience and lots of anecdotal stories is how I have arrived at this conclusion. Let me share a few.

I talked to plenty of EMTs over the years, and their frustrations are often palpable. One guy told me that on the umpteenth call for one of downtown’s most chronic alcoholics, they arrived to see a drunk college-aged girl literally stuffing money in this guy’s pocket as was sprawled on the sidewalk, unconscious. The EMT confessed to saying less than charitable things to this young woman about the timing and method of her charitable donation.

Another story I got from a bartender where my co-workers would have after-shifters now and then. We were talking about enabling, and she sheepishly described one Christmas when several patrons put on Santa caps and handed out pints of vodka to street people. Ho, ho, ho, gulp, gulp, gulp I guess.

The story I share most with people to persuade them to stop throwing money at people on the street is my own, and it helped me understand the dynamics at play, which is why I use it every chance I get.

It starts on a typical night downtown. I’m biking and it’s past the magical hour that delineates when someone can sleep on a sidewalk, and when they can’t. As I’m biking I see someone on the sidewalk and two police officers walking toward him, on foot patrol. I stop my bike and ask the officer I recognize (who also recognizes me from my work with people on the streets) if they would mind if I woke him up and sat him up so he could then be in compliance with our city’s enlightened ordinances.

Clearly not wanting to the be the uniformed officers required to do the unpleasant job of rousing a homeless man, they consent and let me be the one to do it, which is great because not having a uniform and knowing this guy pretty well makes the job much easier and less threatening, for him.

I end up sitting with this homeless man–who is old (though not as old as you would think)–for about an hour, and in that hour I watched, listened and learned.

I learned that in that brief span of time one kind person brought him a plate of nachos, not leftovers, but purchased just for him. A drunk guy who looked very bro-ish surprisingly didn’t verbally accost him, but instead gave him $20 bucks. A few minutes later, a woman, also intoxicated, gave him $4 dollars. Then another woman, even more intoxicated, gleefully exposed her breasts.

Food, money, entertainment. What’s not to like?

At this point in the story, whatever audience I was trying to persuade would generally be amused, and probably not deterred from enacting similar gestures of kindness to the less fortunate. Then I would explain what they didn’t see about this scenario that I discovered that night.

I first acknowledge that this guy slowly drinking himself to death is of course a sad case that stirs feelings of guilt and compassion, but what they don’t know is that street culture is very communal, so when they throw money at this broken-down alcoholic to buy alcohol, what they don’t see is the other people their charity enables, like the young Native guy who stops by later and pounds a few gulps from the vodka bottle–a kid I was almost positive had been part of a group of violent young men “rolling” other homeless people that particular summer downtown and along the river trail.

And they don’t see the next morning, before legal alcohol peddlers can start legally selling alcohol (8am), as this aging alcoholic is scrambling to find a place to take a shit, then hoping someone comes by to give him a pull before the shakes get too bad and he has a seizure.

I don’t expect people in this town to understand what’s happening on the streets, because they don’t have the experiences first responders and hospital staff and social workers have on the front lines. I do expect a blowhard like Greg Strandberg to better educate himself on an issue like this before ignorantly scapegoating a homeless shelter for problems our entire Missoula community is responsible for.

Ironically I do agree and will advocate for more law enforcement in Missoula, but not because a seasonal influx of obnoxious street kids blow through town every summer. We need more law enforcement because Missoula has grown significantly in the last 15 years and the ability of police to respond to the 300-400 calls coming in every day to 911 dispatch hasn’t kept pace in terms of personnel.

The problem, though, is the hope from downtown businesses that increasing the presence of police will solve the problem they have been complaining about year after year. This is one of those problems that is unrealistic to fix from purely a law enforcement perspective, especially with the jail always full and our gap-ridden mental health system and over-burdened criminal justice system the way it is.

So I’ll say it again, until the underlying problems are addressed, this issue won’t be policed away or hidden with better tailored ordinances.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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29 Responses to Self-Promoter and Wannabe Politician Greg Strandberg Doesn’t Know Squat About Homelessness

  1. Rob Kailey says:

    It’s odd that we have relegated the word “imagination” to the realms of dream and fantasy. All it really means is the ability to mentally see connections, creations, and relations. I only mention this because I am truly stunned by Strandberg’s total lack of ability in that faculty given his ‘chops’ as a writer. I don’t fault him for that, but it’s a necessary observation in understanding how he can be so clueless, how so many can be so clueless. I’ve no interest in arguing the ‘nature v. nurture’ of the thing, but it does appear that simple explanations for problems are the purview of the unimaginative.

  2. Greg Strandberg says:

    Fun post. I remember when I took a ride along with the Highway Patrol this spring the trooper told me flat out, the homeless shelter is drawing them in. I can understand you don’t like that, and that’s fine with me.

    • Rob Kailey says:

      Well there you have it. If a highway patrolman said it, then it’s a fact, Jack.

      • Greg Strandberg says:

        Are the opinions of officials like that not worth anything, because I thought they were. I’ve got a relative on the Missoula police force as well, but I haven’t asked him much about it.

        What do you think is leading to the problem, or maybe to take it further, what do you think the problem is?

        • Rob Kailey says:

          No, Greg. Asking the opinion of the highway patrol about Missoula’s transient problem is like asking your dentist what’s wrong with your ankle. That opinion really doesn’t mean anything.

          As for what the “problem” is, I concur with Lizard. Not on all aspects, to be sure, but he has a much tighter grasp on the situation than you seem to, given your education by MHiP.

    • are you saying we wouldn’t have these problems downtown if the homeless shelter on Broadway wasn’t here?

      and if the problem is the new shelter, why did this problem exist (and was actually much worse) before the new shelter was built?

      face it, you don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

      • Greg Strandberg says:

        I think the problems would be a lot less. We had the problems with the old Pov. They got worse with the new one.

        The main reason we have the problem is that homeless transients that prefer handouts to work spread the word all over the West that Missoula is the place to come for free food and beds.

        I’m sure there are many homeless vets and families that use the Pov, great.

        The main problem, and the problem that the Florence Building is concerned about the most, are the ragtag young people causing problems. Are these folks not coming and enjoying the Pov’s free food and beds as well? I think they are, and unless we stop drawing them like flies with those free handouts, they’ll keep coming.

        If we stop offering those things they’ll go somewhere else. Something else I’d like to see is the police put some presence downtown and fine residents for giving handouts to transients. That seems to be one of your issues as well, and I feel one fine for a resident will keep that resident from giving once and for all.

        Might hurt that transient that doesn’t want to work, and it might hurt the bleeding hearts of some liberals, but I can live with that and I feel most of Missoula can as well.

        • it’s true, sometimes the undesirables get food at food banks and homeless shelters. but of the 100-150 people who call the pov a temporary home for 30-60 days–people who have to do chores to stay and live in crowded dorms with lights out/lights on rules and sobriety tests administered by staff–how many of those people do you think are making the upper-crust in the lobby of the Florence building uncomfortable at night?

          here are some things the homeless shelter doesn’t do: give out money; sell alcohol.

          here are some of the things the homeless shelter does do: provides food for hundreds of people to subsidize landlords and property owners so people on fixed income can stay in their overpriced housing, provides paid staff to respond to nuisance issues related to chronic homeless (HOT line: 493-7955), and they even clean up trash at homeless camps. I should know since I helped organize volunteer cleanups that removed tons of trash.

          here is one more thing I know for a fact: there are people staying at the shelter working a whole hell of a lot harder than you are. maybe instead of bitching about lagging book sales and demanding politicians make your life better you should get a fucking job.

  3. Greg Strandberg says:

    People aren’t coming from all over the West because our downtown businesses sell booze, they’re coming because the Pov gives free food and beds for up to 60 days. Going downtown during the day after chore time and getting drunk is what many are doing, I have no doubt.

    How many are responsible homeless and/or working poor, and how many are bums, true bums in every sense of the word? You worked there, how many? And how does this benefit Missoula? Currently it’s not, and that’s why we have the need for more police and the Florence Building in an uproar.

    The Pov contributes to that problem.

    • your questions aren’t worthy of a response because you are clearly intent on being persistent in your ignorance.

      • Greg Strandberg says:

        I wrote my views to the local newspaper, as I felt that would get me the largest audience on this important issue. Many of the people that commented on the letter seemed to agree with me.

        You don’t agree with me, so you posted your views here. That’s perfectly fine. I’m still allowed to comment here, so I explained my views further. You’ve failed to convince me to your point of view on this, however. If you want to stop the debate, then I feel you won’t convince me and my opinion will stand as it did before.

        I guess that’s where we’ll leave it then.

        • you’re right, I can’t alleviate people of their ignorance, including yours. all I can do is share my perspective, which is derived from years of first-hand experiences, unlike your perspective, which is apparently derived from a ride along and online comments at the Missoulian.

  4. Greg Strandberg says:

    I thought that was the end of it. I don’t know why you can’t put forth some kind of percentage or number on how many people are legitimately seeking help to improve their lives, and those that are just freeloading.

    I see that the Povorello Center had $4.2 million in net assets in 2015. They contributed $1.3 million in food and $435,000 in food vouchers.

    That’s great…but how much is going to people who need it and how much is going to slackers?

    I see those slackers most times when I drive by the Pov on Broadway. They’re outside smoking and sitting around, and these people look to me as though they could work. They choose not to, and we enable that decision by feeding and housing them, though I feel most of those types just get the food and forgo the housing in favor of parks and under the bridge and such.

    I’m currently in Helena and I drove by the homeless shelter today. It’d called God’s Love and in 2012 they had an operating budget of $350,000. They allow people to stay 3 days there, but if it’s a family they have a small set of apartments above the shelter that they can stay in until they get things sorted out.

    I don’t remember any problems from God’s Love while growing up in Helena, nor do I remember issues with transients. In Missoula it seems like there are problems all the time.

    In Missoula I just don’t feel this 30 to 60 day policy should apply to those that are seeking handouts without putting any attempt into changing their lives for the better. Many of those types are downtown causing problems. If we make it clear to them, through Pov policy changes, that that behavior will not be tolerated and that we will no longer be handing out food and housing to individuals that don’t need it, they’ll go away.

    I feel the Pov could make those changes. They choose not to.

    • I have no problem continuing to counter, as best I can, your raging ignorance. I see that you have provided more compelling evidence to your argument that a new homeless shelter is to blame for downtown transient problems, the evidence being you see people not working and smoking cigarettes as you drive by in your car. I guess we can add that to online comments and your one ride along as further proof that the Pov is to blame for drunk panhandlers downtown.

      I’m glad an entitled whiner like yourself isn’t in any kind of position to judge who is deserving of services and who is not. the Pov does an amazing job navigating one of the most difficult choke-points of systemic failure one can experience in Missoula.

      • Greg Strandberg says:

        When I asked you a few questions about the numbers of people loitering about and not doing anything, you had none. I offer my opinion, which was gained by talking with law enforcement officials, reading the news, reading people’s comments, and driving by the actual location. If that doesn’t put me in a position to judge, what does? What would you like me to say? It seems you want me to stop talking. Why did you write this post then?

        • the number of people staying at the Pov who are “not doing anything” is 0 because, like I said, EVERYONE staying there is required to do a daily chore. most of the people who cause problems downtown are banned from services at the Pov.

          you seem to have a lot of free time since you don’t have a real job, so why don’t you go volunteer so you can replace your secondhand information and drive-by judgements with actual experiences.

          the reason I wrote this post should be pretty obvious. I am relating my own experiences so the readers of this blog will be better informed, but I certainly don’t expect this post to impact your ignorance, since you seem pretty invested in remaining ignorant on this topic.

        • Greg Strandberg says:

          Why are you so fixated on me, my job, my free time, and just about anything else you can think up that will take away from your inability to discuss this issue in any kind of civilized way?

          I’m not the issue here. The issue is the increased number of transients that are downtown, causing all kinds of problems. We read about these in the news quite frequently, hence my letter to the paper. My argument is that the homeless shelter is the reason for these increased transients.

          I personally feel that your assessment that the number of transients not doing anything being zero is incorrect. I’d like to know more about these chores as well – what are they, how much time do they take (8 hours, for instance?), and if these people at the Pov are not causing the problems downtown that are getting businesses up in arms and the police asking for more officers, what is?

          I feel the main problem is our homeless shelter’s policies which draw them in. We built it, and they come. Strangely, many other Montana cities with homeless shelters – such as in Helena, the numbers of which I put up last night – are not having these problems.

          Why is it just Missoula?

          I’m also not convinced by your argument that downtown businesses and their alcohol policies are to blame. Why are other Montana cities not having the same problems in such high levels as us here in Missoula?

          I look forward to your response and will reply to it later today when I get done at the Historical Society today, as well as doing some other stuff around Helena. Thanks.

        • oh, does poor Greg not like being judged and criticized? tough, you deal it, so be prepared to take it.

          your ignorance is absolutely the issue here, which is why your name is in the title of the post, and your argument is the one I am refuting.

          how about you back up your claim that there has been an increase in the number of transients. if you look at the Indy, the downtown officer said of the reported incidents at the Florence that they “probably falls in the norm for that specific geographic location”. so he’s saying this is normal, part of a seasonal migration that happens every year.

          and you mention shelter policies for the reason for downtown problems, what policies? what do you know about the shelter beyond what I’ve told you?

          and then there’s your completely erroneous claim that only Missoula has this problem. you can fix your ignorance on that angle by simply googling Billings transient problem.

          so are you going to double down on being wrong, or will you acknowledge it and educate yourself a bit better?

        • Greg Strandberg says:

          I’ll double down.

        • with what? I asked you some questions, you got any answers?

  5. Greg Strandberg says:

    Yes, the Pov is the direct source of most of the transient problems downtown. Do you want me to get into it all again?

    • JC says:

      Why don’t you get that the downtown drunks are not Pov patrons? Drunks cannot come into the Pov and get services or food. And most alcoholics and drug addicts can’t get sober long enough to make it in the door and the sobriety tests before they go into withdrawals. Most of the people you see drunk downtown, who are homeless, “live” in camps scattered around, or on the fringes of town, not at the Pov. And these people are attracted to Missoula because they can live on the castoffs of locals, off of handouts, and from spanging or “working” corners with signs — and that there are plenty of places to hide away along the river or in the hills, if not the alleys.

  6. Greg Strandberg says:

    Even the community impact manager for United Way of Missoula County admits that roughly 50% of Missoula’s homeless population are not responsible.

    • JC says:

      Do you expect a mentally ill psychotic individual to be responsible? Do you expect a drug addict to be responsible when there aren’t services available? I suppose you are one of those individuals who believes mental illness and addiction to be moral failings. If so, then you and I (and Skink) will never see eye to eye on this issue unless you learn to have a different view.

      I will never view mental illness or addiction as a moral problem (except for those immoral business owners like Wordens’ Tim France who enable downtown’s serial inebriators). And the Pov is not responsible for people either becoming addicted or mentally ill. So you need to go fishing for another boogyman to blame your misinformation on.

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  8. Glen says:

    When we use the term ” community” it means embracing all citizens. I am attaching a link to NORTH BEACH CITIZENS, in San Francisco. It is fantastic what they did for the homeless in their part of town. It was the old wealthy matrons like Mrs. Copolla who gathered her neighbors and colleagues together to implement this project. And that is what the wealthy must do in our communities. They earned their money either by inheritance or by working hard. However, they never did it alone. NO ONE EVER SUCCEEDS without the help of others. They must share the benefits with the communities in which they live and do business. It is the only ethical thing to do. Some wealthy have so steeled themselves from the realities of poverty that surrounds them. It is especially visible in Montana, where some of the extremely wealthy come here and build homes that would house 20 people instead of two. Full time Montana residents who live here can not afford homes here because of the greed. The income gap is horrifying and is part of this problem. Please see the link below. Instead of pushing out the homeless, they took them in. It is an a amazing story of what “community” really means. And it has done wonders for the neighborhood. Surely we can all consider doing this in our own towns and cities. Well worth your time to read….

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