by William Skink
The winter shelter plan for those without homes in Missoula was announced last October. There wasn’t much difference between this year and the previous year in terms of where people were going to stay. The Salvation Army agreed, despite saying last year they would not participate, to once again host the overflow need from the Pov.
The big change for the Poverello Center was the decision to relax their zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol in order to serve people under the influence. Here is how the Missoula Current reported this change last October:
Joined by housing experts, the city of Missoula on Wednesday said the Poverello Center will utilize the Salvation Army as an emergency shelter this winter and make changes to a suite of policies to accommodate a wider range of clients.
Among them, it will triage individuals based on need and waive a longstanding policy of zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use. The Poverello will also staff both shelters, ensuring its seasoned employees are available to meet client needs and move them toward stable, long-term options.
So, how are things going?
A few weeks ago police responded to reports of someone at the Pov with a gun. This “developing story” was not followed up on.
More recently, as in last night recently, a fight at the Pov sent one man to the hospital and one man to jail:
Missoula Police Corporal Chris Kaneff said that at about 7:45 PM, police officers were first to respond to a medical emergency at the homeless shelter.
When they went to the basement of the facility, in which several bunks are located, they found a 45-year-old male unresponsive and started performing CPR on him.
As they questioned witnesses on the scene, officers found out that a fight had taken place between two men.
Corporal Kaneff added that witnesses had said that the victim had been placed in a headlock by a man in his 30’s.
Here is the harsh reality about people with addition and mental health problems: they can be dangerous. I know this first hand because I worked at the Pov for 7 years and I left my job because dealing with people in crisis burned me out.
I was assaulted behind the Union Gospel Mission by a man on meth who later threatened to kill me in front of nurses at the ER. I had someone pull a knife on me at the Pov after I told him to leave because he was on a violation out. Another man brandished a machete on the Broadway Island.
The majority of people without homes are not dangerous, but when you start mixing drug and alcohol abuse with mental health problems, the combination can be volatile.
I took some blankets to the Pov last month and what I saw and smelled was concerning. There was obvious and open drug use in the fenced-in court yard. I think I got a little stoned just from being in proximity to the plumes of weed smoke wafting over the fence. The interior of the Pov is dark and dingy. Broken down cars are littered in the parking lot, some with debris in and around the vehicle. It is not a welcoming environment.
I don’t say this to criticize my former employer. I say this as a concerned community member who has seen first hand how the City has failed to address the worsening chronic homeless situation in Missoula. The Pov is doing the best they can, but at some point something serious is going to happen and our community will have to reassess what is feasible and what is not.
A client with a gun and a fight that nearly resulted in someone being choked to death is bad enough. I hope measures are taken to ensure client/staff safety, because allowing intoxicated, drug-abusing clients significantly increases the risk of bad things happening.