Thanks To Mayor Engen’s Do-Nothing Homeless Camp Policy, Reserve Street Burned On Saturday And Nothing Will Be Done About It

by William Skink

Last Saturday a fire broke out at the homeless camps under and around the Reserve Street bridge. The responding fire fighters had to close down Reserve Street bridge for an entire hour as they tried to put out the fire. This incident was only reported by NBC news. Nothing in the Missoulian or Missoula Current. Here’s more from the NBC:

Missoula Fire Department Battalion Chief Troy Ault says several similar incidents happen in the area year-round, and it can be a challenge for their crews.

Ault says there aren’t any fire hydrants in the area. On Saturday, crews had to pump water from two of their trucks to put out the flames.

He also says the area technically isn’t in their jurisdiction, but they still have to respond to the call.

Parts of the land are owned by the city, and others are owned by the state.

The Missoula Police Department said Saturday’s fire was an illegal burn. However, fire officials say the people who started it do not face any repercussions.

How do you like that last part? Start an illegal fire and face no repercussions. Nice.

At what point will things get bad enough out there that Mayor Engen’s do-nothing policy is forced to change? If you didn’t catch Engen explaining his do-nothing policy, here’s the money quote from a NBC piece back in October:

“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.

When Engen claims “we don’t have crime” at the camps he’s either speaking from ignorance or lying. Shopping carts are regularly being stolen from stores, trash is piling up, and now an illegal fire breaks out, requiring our tax-funded fire fighters to go beyond their jurisdictional constraints to spend an hour taming the flames.

I guess all these minor infractions don’t rise to the level of concern for our Mayor. Engen must be waiting for someone to get raped or murdered, then what will happen?

I know what could happen because I coordinated clean-ups in this area for years. The first clean-up was a paid effort by the Montana Department of Transportation, and cost around $18,000 to accomplish. After that I worked with the Health Department and the Clark Fork Coalition to remove tons of trash year after year.

Here’s a Missoulian article from 2016 describing the work being done at the time:

Travis Ross, an environmental health specialist with the Water Quality District, said there were 26 active camps when the state first came in to clean the area in 2011, an effort that cost $18,000.

“At that time it hadn’t been cleaned for a long, long time, maybe ever,” he said. “After that, we formed a coalition to take care of this as a community. We don’t want to see it get to that point anymore. This is public land. It’s a beautiful riparian area, habitat, and we want to keep it that way as much as possible.”

The first year, volunteers collected more than eight tons of garbage. In subsequent year, it dropped to about five, and then last year volunteers collected about 3.2 tons. This year may be even lower.

“So the volume is going down every year pretty steadily,” Ross said.

To effectively manage this area, regular clean-ups need to happen, at least two a year. That’s what I was doing, and it was working. After a clean-up, people would return almost immediately to the area, but at least they weren’t being allowed to build semi-permanent structures. I thought that was a good thing, but maybe I was just being a heartless asshole to these residents. Much better to just let them be, consuming whatever drugs are available and living amongst trash. And when they commit misdemeanor crimes? Just do nothing, because enforcing laws is really mean to those who have so little.

Since a culture of lawlessness and disregard for the surrounding natural environment is being fostered by Mayor Engen’s do-nothing policy, something more serious WILL happen out there eventually, it’s just a matter of time. When that happens the effort that will be required to clean this area will be immense, since years of doing nothing is returning this area back to the deplorable state it was in before I coordinated clean-up efforts.


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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