Brilliant Idea From Missoulian Op-Ed To Have A Discussion About Homelessness 

by William Skink

I am so god damn excited that Missoula is going to have a discussion about homelessness.

Yep, that is what this Missoulian editorial is calling for, a discussion, and not just any discussion, but one that includes the “larger community” in Missoula.

After the preventable emergency that resulted from a chronic lack of prioritization by those who control the budget of our fair city is dealt with, band-aid style, here is how the Missoulian described the next step:

The next step is to get the entire community involved in an ongoing discussion about how to better identify, coordinate and meet the needs of our homeless and at-risk residents before they reach the point of crisis.

Missoula does have a plan, Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, adopted in 2012, which aims to provide permanent housing solutions. It also has an Office of Housing and Community Development headed by a director with plenty of experience and expertise on the local homeless situation: Eran Pehan is a former executive director of the Poverello Center.

Going by the decreased number of homeless folks in Missoula despite the housing affordability, these efforts appear to be working. So how did this winter’s emergency arise? And what should Missoula do to better help our homeless in the future? That’s just one of many questions that need to be discussed in depth, not just by the experts and volunteers working to help Missoula’s homeless, but by the larger community.

I hope the larger Missoula community is as god damn excited as I am about this discussion, especially as the majority of this larger community voted to make housing more expensive with the Open Space Bond last month.

The first problem that needs to be addressed is the presumption that the amount of homeless people in Missoula is decreasing. I do not believe that is actually the case, and I further believe the Mayor’s office knows the numbers they are using from the point-in-time survey do not accurately reflect the reality of homelessness in Missoula.

How many active names are on the Coordinated Entry System’s by-name list? It’s important to say “active” because if you, as a homeless person, aren’t calling 211 every month to let them know you are still homeless, you become “inactive”. Either that number, or the number of unduplicated homeless individuals served by the Poverello Center for overnight shelter would give a more accurate picture of homelessness in Missoula.

Those numbers exist. If I was a reporter, I would be curious what those numbers are.

Another question I would ask, were I reporter, is what was actually accomplished during the first 4 years Michael Moore was the director of the 10 year plan to end homelessness? My opinion, which comes from direct experience, is that Michael was not qualified to move the plan forward, but no one else wanted the job, so he got it. Combine that with a lack of supervision from the leadership of United Way, and you get 4 years of nothing much getting accomplished.

If people in our larger Missoula community want to know how we got to the winter of 2018 without a better plan to keep people from dying of exposure, I am available and open to any and all educational opportunities. Hit me up at willskink at yahoo dot com.

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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3 Responses to Brilliant Idea From Missoulian Op-Ed To Have A Discussion About Homelessness 

  1. Jeez, William – I think if we were serious about having this discussion, we’d uncover some truths that many would like to see hidden from public knowledge. Here are a few examples of that:

    From last year’s Kaimin:

    “In 2012, Mayor John Engen introduced Reaching Home, a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Missoula. The plan outlined key issues affecting the homeless and those on the brink of homelessness, along with presenting suggestions for solutions.

    Now five years into the 10-year endeavor, Reaching Home coordinator Theresa Williams said the plan has shown no measurable effect on the homeless population.”

    The city’s own 48-page PDF on their plan to end homelessness, which came out in 2012, said we had 200 people a day homeless in Missoula.

    But then last summer, ABC Fox Montana told us that a national survey had Missoula at 400 homeless peole a day.

    In 5 years of the plan to end homelessness, the city actually saw a 200% increase in the homeless population.

    The city and the city’s paper’s editors still want to have that discussion…really?

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