Gentrification, Homelessness And What Corporate Media In Missoula Is Not Telling You

by William Skink

Some weeks I miss the Indy more than others. It’s usually the weeks where something is happening in Missoula that I know about, then I see the disparity between what I know and what is being reported. That’s usually when I think about the Indy and what might have been reported had the Missoulian’s corporate overlords, Lee Enterprises, not destroyed its one-time competitor.

This Sunday the Missoulian is pairing its op-ed on the lack of a winter shelter plan with a splashy front-page premise asking if Missoula is becoming the Austin of the Northwest. Both the opinion piece and front page pro-gentrification piece tell woefully incomplete stories about what is happening in Missoula.

The Missoulian op-ed about a lack of winter shelter planning begins with last year’s crisis, then tells a brief history about the Poverello attempt to address those its main shelter cannot serve because of drug use/intoxication, first with a drop-in shelter, then with the homeless outreach team.

I was directly involved with both efforts and can tell a very detailed story about what has happened since 2008 with homelessness in Missoula, but my story is too honest and truthful for local media. Because of what I know I can say there appears to be a purposeful lack of curiosity from corporate media regarding honest coverage of those who have made careers from pretending to be advocates for the homeless population.

The first 4 years of the 10 year plan to end homelessness was a total bust in terms of accomplishments. The Coordinated Entry system has only been developed during the past 3 years under the much more competent leadership of Theresa Williams, a person who I still think has integrity despite having to work with a lot of people who do not.

The real story of the first 4 years of the 10 year plan is that Michael Moore, a former Missoulian reporter, languished and spun his wheels, with little help from the person tasked with oversight of the plan, ED of United Way, Susan Hay Patrick. I would be more than happy to go on record about all this if the Missoulian is actually serious about informing its audience about why gaps in services have yet to be plugged.

Unfortunately, if the front page of today’s Missoulian is any indication of intent to inform, then my cynicism toward the Missoulian is well-justified.

This past week my little one-man blog–thanks in large part to a comment from Missoula citizen, Kevin Hunt–brought up a serious question about the City Council vote to bless Lord Checota with developing the Riverfront Triangle: why is Mayor Engen fast-tracking the Riverfront Triangle and why doesn’t local media care?

In this Sunday’s article Hunt’s criticism was briefly acknowledged, but some critical context was conveniently left out. From the link:

Kevin Hunt of Missoula was the only member of the public to speak critically about the project at last week’s city council meeting. He questioned why TIF funding wasn’t used for badly-needed affordable housing and said rising property taxes cause people to move out of buildings, which causes them to be demolished and then the area is declared blighted, thereby necessitating the use of ever-more TIF.

“Is it in the public interest to cede virtual monopoly on the major cultural entertainment events to essentially what sounds like one person, or one entity?” he asked.

Other commenters told the city they thought it would be a great project.

Here is the missing context: WHY WAS KEVIN HUNT THE ONLY MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC TO SPEAK CRITICALLY ABOUT THE PROJECT?

Hunt’s criticism in providing public comment was not limited to this riverfront development and its visionary’s entitlement to public money, but also to the Mayor’s decision to suddenly move the Council vote from this upcoming Monday to last Wednesday. Here, again, is Kevin Hunt in his own very articulate words:

Engen moved the vote on this back from its originally scheduled time, i.e., next Monday evening, the regular Monday evening council meeting, to yesterday, Wednesday, at 2:15 p.m., set up so that Checota’s dog and pony show would run up to 3 PM when another agency needed the chambers. If you were there, you would have heard me blast Engen for several minutes about this before turning to many of the issues you raise here. Before the meeting began, I asked two councilpersons why the meeting was suddenly set for a time when working class could not attend. They did not know. One of them didn’t even know it was a council meeting, she thought it was a committee meeting (all councilpersons sit on all committees, but that’s another scam fit for a later discussion). So, I asked the city clerk, who responded “I don’t know, he (the Mayor) did that while I was out of town.”

In his opening remarks, Engen said the reason for “the rush” was that “rumors begin and spread quickly in this town, and I thought we needed to get ahead of the rumors and get this underway” (near-verbatim, from my memory). In my citizen comment (of about five minutes length, the only one from a critic; two others simply told the council to “go for it”), I told Engen that his explanation about “getting ahead of rumors” was a euphemism for “we can’t let the ignorant unwashed public slow us down with their questions.”

I’m not surprised the Missoulian is not telling its audience the whole story about important things happening in this community. Like any corporate media platform there is an unspoken agenda of fealty to dollars and corporate shareholders, not citizens and their need to be informed about what our elected and non-elected leaders are doing.

Increased traffic to my modest little blog this past week indicates there is some interest in learning what corporate media is not telling you. So, despite little personal time and no financial compensation, I will keep on providing my opinions and insight. Thank you for reading.

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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