by William Skink
Last Saturday I went out to the Reserve Street bridge for a clean-up, but I was a month late. The link my buddy sent me didn’t load all the way, so I didn’t see the clean up–organized by UGM (Union Gospel Mission)–happened last February.
Since I was out there, and had someone accompanying me, I took the opportunity to make the rounds I used to make when I worked at the shelter coordinating the outreach team. If there was a substantial clean-up effort in February, it was hard to tell. I saw at least a half dozen encampments with twice that number of tents.
The last major clean-up in the area happened last August. The Missoulian’s coverage featured a tearful, front-page image of an older woman looking miserable and dejected (and holding a glass pipe). I wasn’t able to go to the clean-up because it was during a work day, but I did write about why the clean-up is needed and why the reaction from a letter to the editor decrying the effort was ignorant.
If there had been follow up from the media on the clean-up effort they would have found that it wasn’t just a few tons of trash that got removed from under and around the bridge that day. Nope, it was 25 TONS of trash that got removed. That number is more than triple the amount of past clean-ups.
Unfortunately, from what I’m hearing, the media coverage has spooked the Clark Fork Coalition from participating in future clean-ups, so how robust any future efforts will be is an open question.
I guess that’s good news for the community of people out there generating tons of trash, injecting meth (I was told the amount of needles last summer has also significantly increased) and only occasionally stabbing and killing each other. If that sounds harsh, I’m not sorry, that’s the reality.
Unless there is some tragic event, or another clean-up for a reporter to show up and photo-op a sob-story about, the Reserve Street camps will just go on being ignored by this rapidly growing Missoula community leaving more and more people behind. What else can be done? Treatment is not accessible, the jails are full, and the cost of housing continues to skyrocket.