by William Skink
One of the most maddening things about watching the workings of local government is how two distinct worlds exist. There’s the abstract world of studies and master plans and “revenue projections”, where elected officials can chase visions of zero waste and mopeds that run on positive vibes, and the other world, the one we commonly refer to as the “real” world.
In the abstract world, where complicated financial mechanisms like mill levy’s esoterically rise and fall, everything is just fine and dandy. There’s even going to be money in the bank for a rainy day fund! That’s just swell!
Calling it a good year, the Missoula City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to its fiscal year 2020 budget, one that will levy fewer mills while investing in new services, including police officers, roads and general maintenance.
Increases in property values across Missoula, a result of state appraisals and what city leaders deem a strong local economy, has strengthened the city’s fiscal standing while giving it room to pad its rainy day fund.
“The fact that we’re lowering mills is a good thing,” said Mayor John Engen. “This budget reflects the interests of most of the folks on this council and the majority of the citizens we serve.”
Isn’t this great news! Good times in Missoula, shared by all, right? But no, that pesky real world still does exist, and here is the real world part of the article:
Despite what most described as good news, the state’s lopsided tax system still left members of the council frustrated. While city mills will decrease, most property owners will still see an increase in property taxes.
Well, gash darn it! I guess we’re all just the helpless victims of this “lopsided” tax system that no one can ever do anything about.
While the budget process is grinding your tax meat, this is the time of year, last year, when I started speculating on what the emergency shelter plan would be for the upcoming winter. In that vein I went looking for meeting minutes for the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Commission. The meeting notes for April (which you can find here) are now available and they are quite illuminating, considering the notes amount to a debrief from the hard winter service providers experienced administering services. Here are some highlights:
The Salvation Army stepped up to provide services for those who could not stay at the Poverello Center. They opened the day after Christmas 2018 and closed at the end of March 2019. The Salvation Army served up to 70 people per night. They were not as strict as the Poverello Center and allowed pets and husbands and wives to stay together. Operationally it was very hard on the Salvation Army staff since they managed a more difficult clientele. There was property damage, people with mental health issues, needles in the bathrooms and items stored outside under bushes. The Good Food Store did have problems but they worked with the Salvation Army.
Plans are already in the works to discuss warming efforts for winter 2019. The Salvation Army decided not to participate this winter since they had issues managing the daytime hours. The transfer center was used as a temporary warming facility winter 2018. Eran explained that they are now looking locally for a place to house people 24 hours per day and that plan will be taken to the council and the commissioners in the future.
We, as a community, are nearly 8 years into the 10 year plan to end homelessness. Instead of acknowledging a more official, better funded, better staffed and trained option is needed, the head of City Council is wondering if Salvation Army’s no is a “hard no”.
Ethan Smith said that the police were called to the Salvation Army every night and staff was overwhelmed. Ethan recommended that whomever housed people this next winter should have training.
Bryan asked if the Salvation Army gave a hard no or if they might be willing to house a few people. Eran thought that was a good question and it was possible that they would be open to that. They were doubling or tripling their staff this winter when they typically only had four people working.
Bryan saw the value of a central facility but wondered if several organizations could work together. Churches could be an option. Transportation was an issue though; each facility would have to find a way to transport people to their facilities.
Even though this commission is supposed to be focused on downtown issues, homelessness is often the focus. So the issue of the Reserve Street camps came up:
Randy Krastel said that the warmer weather was bringing people out. He and the community resource officers are making an effort to get the parks cleaned up of trash so they are clean and ready to go when transients visit them, setting a good example. Several people have been very alarmed about the issues out on N. Reserve under the bridge. People living under the bridge have been building structures out of wood. Several people have also asked him about the YouTube video called “Seattle is Dying,” it’s about addiction and homelessness.
Eran Pehan explained that Theresa Williams, the Reaching Home Coordinator, has been using the Coordinated Entry System trying to reach out to people who have housing vouchers. The problem has been locating or contacting them. Most of those living outside have vouchers waiting for them. The Outreach Teams have also been trying to locate people with vouchers.
And there’s more:
Randy added that several people he knows of have been housed and he has not received calls on these individuals since January. Currently 30 – 40 people were living under the Reserve Street Bridge. Many people are building structures that are visible from the roadway.
– Ethan Smith added that several agencies come together twice per year to clean out the Reserve Street camp. Cleanup efforts by volunteers have also been organized. Food Not Bombs has been helping the people living under the bridge. People who have proclaimed themselves as liberals have been complaining to him that Missoula is turning into a homeless mecca.
– Jake Rosling said that the campers on Expressway are becoming a problem since the area has now been annexed into the city.
– Sue Wilkins added that several area prisons are releasing terrible people with nowhere to go into the community.
– Jake added that Reserve Street is housing several people with county warrants and camps are also being burned.
Very interesting stuff. I’m glad to see aspects of the real world are still being discussed. Whether or not anything substantive can be done is another question.