by William Skink
Mayor John Engen had some pretty blunt comments regarding his assessment of the permanent homeless encampment that has been established to the west and east of the Reserve Street bridge. Here is Engen explaining why nothing is going to happen out there any time soon:
“There’s not a lot to be done. The fact of the matter is we live in a place and a world where folks are down on their luck and suffering from a variety of issues, and camping is the way they live,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen.
The mayor says the solution must be deliberate and intentional, and he has hope, but for now says transients will just keep living on taxpayers’ land.
“We hope to have enough resources that folks who want to be housed can be housed. In cases where somebody’s not causing trouble — we don’t have violence, we don’t have crime — until there becomes a really pressing community public necessity for that person to move on, it’s probably going to be where they are going to be,” said Engen.
It’s hard for me to determine if Engen is being clueless, duplicitous, or some combination of both.
First, there is plenty that can be done to clean up this area–I know because I used to do it with dozens of volunteers and other organizations. When this homeless camp controversy last popped up on social media I made some comments based on my direct experiences, and was later chastised by the director of the Pov for what I said in a series of texts.
I was told the same groups I was working with are still actively helping out, so I checked that claim out and it’s unfortunately not true. I used to collaborate with the Clark Fork Coalition and the City/County Health Department, but both confirmed to me they are no longer actively collaborating to address the public health concerns of trash and human waste at the camps.
The Mayor says he wants solutions to be “deliberate and intentional”. What the hell does he mean by this? I was deliberately and intentionally removing TONS of trash with dozens of people and would have continued doing so had I not burned out in the job after 7 years because Mayor Engen and his cohorts were too busy siphoning tax dollars for art parks and event centers to care about gaps in services for drug addicts and chronic alcoholics who can’t afford expensive treatment like our Mayor can when his alcoholism warranted a direct intervention.
When Engen makes the audacious claim that there is no violence or crime happening at the camps, all I can do is shake my head and wonder if Engen is back on the bottle. Every grocery cart removed from the property of the store that owns it is technically a theft. And what about leaving trash behind on public land, is that now legal?
As for violence, I am assuming Engen is only thinking in terms of RECENT violence. During the seven years I worked at the Poverello Center (2008-20016) there were beatings, stabbings, a rape and a man who was tortured and shot in the head before being dumped in the river. But that was eons ago, right Engen? So let’s just slip those heinous acts of violence down the memory hole. I’m sure everyone is sitting around the campfire and singing kumbaya these days.
Engen prefers we wait for homeless individuals living at these camps to exhibit a “really pressing community public necessity” before any intervention happens. So, as long as people don’t stab, rape or kill each other out there, I guess the petty crimes of theft and trashing the environment is an acceptable situation, and all you naysayers just need to shut up about it already.
Well, I have never been good at shutting up, especially when I see a Mayor who envisions grand things like ZERO WASTE shrugging his hefty shoulders while claiming nothing can be done about homeless people living in squalor and taking morning shits next to the river–a river that, upstream, will soon have a 100 million dollar event center dominating the landscape.