‘Tis the Season to Talk About Homeless Related Problems Because Talk is Cheap

by William Skink

Most people working social service jobs know this time of year interest grows in what they do. As the leaves finish falling, and with Thanksgiving fast approaching, local media go through the motions of reporting on the persistent need that will still be there once the cameras stop rolling.

This year being an election year, politicians get to feign seasonal/electoral concern over things like youth homelessness, and ID provided the platform for this guest post from Zachary DeWolf , Director of Communications & Education at the Pride Foundation.  There was a summit, you see, about taking a stand for the 3,000 students experiencing homelessness in Montana.  From the link:

The summit’s focus was to support unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness and to build awareness of the factors leading to and the disproportionate impact of homelessness, with a special focus on youth of color, Native American youth, and LGBTQ youth.

Earlier this year, the Montana OPI reported that in 2010-2011, the state’s school districts identified a total of 1,487 students experiencing homelessness in their classrooms. That number skyrocketed to 3,000 students experiencing homelessness in the 2015-2016.

This shocking report, as well as the need to explore and coordinate the work that is already being done throughout the state—was the impetus for this week’s summit.

Steve Bullock and Denise Juneau were special guests at this summit, and good for them for being present, considering it’s been under their leadership this situation has worsened.

In Bullock and Juneau’s defense, I do think the increased numbers are, in part, a reflection of better efforts to identify and report. The incentive, though, is partly driven by the need to obtain more funding, which is both understandable and unfortunate.

Where I decided to open my big, fat mouth was in the comments, starting with this:

I remember when an alleged “progressive” and LGBT advocate, Caitlin Copple, led the effort in Missoula to criminalize sitting on downtown sidewalks, which almost got us sued by the ACLU. luckily Adam Hertz, from that despicable other side of the political spectrum, led the effort to reconsider this terrible maneuver and save Missoula from costly litigation.

it’s great they had a summit, though. next they should fund a study, then form a committee, then forget about this problem and move on to saving more refugees.

What’s boiling over here, for me, is the time and resources wasted a few years ago to corral the transient problem downtown. In another comment, I explained how there are two categories: stuff that gets done, and stuff that gets talked about:

examples of stuff getting done: downtown businesses want another ordinance because the last few didn’t work–it’s introduced in October and pushed through by December; do-gooders want to save refugees, and from idea to families arriving in less than a year it happens, with that woman from New York in the newspaper whining about her scramble to find them housing because no income, no credit, no rental history and no co-signing usually destroys your chance of renting in Missoula.

examples of stuff getting talked about: affordable housing, jail over-crowding, an alternative to the ER and jail for chronic homeless people, the crisis with child protective services. year after year after year, talk, talk, talk.

From the category of talk, there has been more surrounding the jail diversion plan. This article is from Missoula Current. From the link:

“It’s a broad approach, and there’s a lot of different things involved in here,” said Missoula County Undersheriff Jason Johnson. “The intention is to not build a bigger jail, but to identify issues of people getting stuck in the system and help with things like mental health and addiction. That’s really a community approach, and it’s not something the detention center can take on on its own.”

Emily Bentley, one of the effort’s primary sponsors, said revisions to the latest version of the master plan address a number of questions raised earlier this year by law enforcement officials and the legal system.

As written, the plan directs the city and county to work more closely with area health-care providers, and it urges local law enforcement officials to provide crisis intervention training to patrol officers and ensure each shift has one trained officer on duty.

Jason Johnson states the intention of the plan is to identify issues that contribute to people getting “stuck” in jail, like mental health and addiction. The problem is these issues have been identified FOR YEARS. We know the fucking problems at this point, there’s no goddamn mystery around what’s fueling overcrowding. We just don’t have the programs and infrastructure to provide a legitimate alternative to jail. Why?

Here’s more from the link:

It also identifies gaps in local services, including the city’s lack of a social detox facility and a homeless shelter for those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which comprise roughly 35 percent of the total nonviolent inmate population, according to the report.

“This is the first plan, if adopted, that will call for permanent supportive housing,” said Bentley. “It calls for electronic monitoring, which we currently don’t have. We have it a little bit, but not in a systematic way. This clarifies that.”

Jesus Christ, Emily Bentley, do you really think this is the first plan calling for permanent supportive housing? Have you not read that other little 10 year plan to end homelessness put out 4 years ago?

So what’s the hitch? Money, mostly:

The 121-page report dives deep into local and national statistics, best practices and alternatives to incarceration, including a greater emphasis on intervention. It makes no mention of costs associated with implementing new diversion efforts, though Tina Reinicke, the court administrator for Missoula Municipal Court, placed the price tag at roughly $1 million.

“There will be budgetary implications,” Reinicke said. “When we costed it out just before April, it was just under $1 million we’d need additionally to provide everything in the plan. We based that on real data for a year, but that’s a pie in the sky figure. We know Missoula is going to grow.”

Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins also had concerns over cost. At one point, he described the plan as flawed, though he later said he supported portions of it.

“There are some things in it I really like,” said Wilkins. “We’ve got to do something with the mental health problem. We need beds for that. The wet house thing – I’m still debating on whether that’s good or bad.”

No where in this article is any monetary figure reflecting how much money we are currently wasting. Over 6 years ago St. Pats said they write-off around 3.2 million dollars on indigent care. What’s that figure for 2015? How much is wasted by the city with first responder services, like police and fire?

It is absolutely maddening to read this shit. We spend money on studies, then the studies come out, then we talk about it, wringing our collective hands over the problem. Then the holidays come, other issues come up, and nothing happens. Nothing fucking happens.

This isn’t just a local problem (though Missoula is seen as a great place by other communities in Montana to send their chronically homeless). We desperately need better statewide coordination, whether its access to treatment for addiction, better planned discharges from Warm Springs, and better planned discharges from Deerlodge. But will we get it?

Some of the stories I have about Warm Springs and the prison dumping people on the shelter or in motel rooms with little to no support (Three Rivers is a terrible mental health organization) would astound people in this community. Just recently I heard about a level 3 sex offender sent to Missoula even though the prison was told explicitly this offender would not receive supportive services.

I hope during the next legislative session something will actually get done about these issues. I hope the rest of the state won’t let symbolic gun ordinances and refugee-saving crusades negatively impact their impression of Missoula to the detriment of issues like these that need more funding and wider political support to enact changes and close gaps in services.

Talk is cheap. We need solutions. And we need people to understand how expensive our current failures actually are. If that was better understood, I think more diverse political support would be inevitable.

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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2 Responses to ‘Tis the Season to Talk About Homeless Related Problems Because Talk is Cheap

  1. Eric says:

    You obviously know what you’re talking about, and you are right about Helena. They’ll spend more time talking about seal belt laws, and special rights for gays than they will homelessness. Ask them for funding and their butts will tighten up like a snare drum. In 1999 when I was running for City Council Billings was having problems with homelessness and aggressive panhandlers, and I was half ways joking when I suggested a one-way ticket to San Diego for each of them, and I was actually contacted by some people from San Diego saying don’t send anymore, and that places were already doing that. What is your solution though? A lot of these people have drug and alcohol dependence, and they can’t have those in shelters, so they’d rather be on the street. And if they don’t get caught breaking the law, they can do as they will.

  2. steve kelly says:

    RE: “…more diverse political support would be inevitable.” This will require a mass awakening, and collective “…throwing off the yoke (of tyranny)…” The remedy is constant.

    “While any real remedy for our social ills today and in the future may come solely from local community of sovereign people we create ourselves and/or contribute toward a self-government regardless of national political structure.

    One of things that electoral zombies crawling into polling booths are told to forget is US declaration of Independence, 1776 that states:

    ..But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    Without throwing off this rigged and corrupted political and electoral system, government policies will never be determined by power of ideas that benefit 99% regardless who is in the W.H., since all of presidents are vetted by the US oligarchic class before they are allowed to “run”. And today is no different from yesterday or two centuries ago.” https://contrarianopinion.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/faux-elections-and-american-insanity-of-fear/

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