What The Flood Won’t Wash Away

by William Skink

Missoula’s flood waters have swept away most of the trash generated by the Reserve Street homeless camps. When flood waters started coming up, tents popped up on the grassy mounds on the west side of the bridge. Those tents are still there, and one person is reported to have refused to leave.

On Saturday I went out there, pretty sure I knew who the article was referring to. He’s surrounded by water, but ok. The feral cat colony he adopted had scattered, but were watching me from a safe distance.

Getting to his spot got me a little wet, despite water proof pants, bog boots and duct tape. The water was over my knees. He doesn’t have similar gear, so his feet are probably constantly wet. Like Veterans of the Vietnam war know too well, wet feet can be a problem.

As I slogged up the embankment toward the bridge I noticed an old man, arms folded, looking out in the direction of the tents. I asked him if he was camping out there and he said no, not anymore, though his tent was still out there. He looked to be in his 70’s. He said his raft was still out there to. I asked him if he was the guy the authorities saved and he said he was.

Like many people, when I read about this incident in the paper, I was frustrated. I was frustrated that emergency resources had to be used to address such a reckless and stupid decision by someone who had been told to leave the area because the valley is experiencing a flood not seen in 100 years.

The resurgence of the camps in this area has also been a point of frustration for me, especially as the efforts I used to help coordinate seem to be waning. The people I see going and coming from the camps as I commute to work appear to be younger.

But that is me making assumptions. I don’t go out there regularly, like I used to, so I don’t actually know beyond a few people I still recognize who is actually living out there.

I asked the man how long he’s been in Missoula, expecting him to say a few weeks or a few months. He said he’s been in Missoula since ’63. I asked him how he lost his housing and he said he went to prison. I asked him if he’s trying to find housing and he said no, he gave up. He got a little generator and a tent and he hopes it doesn’t get stolen.

I think that may have been why he was on the bridge, not to marvel at the power of mother nature, but to keep an eye on his few material possessions.

I wished him luck and went back to a vehicle I don’t have to sleep in, in a town that makes it nearly impossible for a guy like this to have a roof over his head.

Happy Mother’s day, Missoula.

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 What The Flood Won’t Wash Away

  1. Big Swede says:

    Let’s call it, “The Big Flush”.

  2. Eric says:

    I’m really not mean, nasty, and cold-hearted, but you seem to think of housing as some sort of entitlement. Where does that come from?

    If your guy can’t afford Missoula, on the first of the month when he gets paid he needs to buy a bus ticket.

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