by William Skink
The city of Missoula unveiled a new plan to shelter people without homes amidst this pandemic when it was announced the city would purchase the Sleepy Inn on West Broadway for just over a million dollars.
Critics of the state’s official indifference toward homeless people, critics like myself, should be applauding this move of a municipality stepping up, right? And using TIF money to help some of the most vulnerable in our community is what this funding tool was made for, right?
One problem I have is that over the years of watching the Engen regime I simply don’t trust that the Mayor doesn’t have something else up his sleeve, which he essentially admits to in this Missoula Current article after the word “pivot”.
Engen said the purchase would be made in full using tax increment from within the district. The property was already on the market, offering the city a chance to achieve several pressing goals, including isolated shelter during the pandemic and affordable housing down the road.
“The other moving part here is that, pre-COVID, we had been looking at opportunities for redevelopment, particularly for housing projects, and we identified this property as one of those properties that was ripe for redevelopment,” Engen said.
If approved by MRA’s board this week and the Missoula City Council next week, the purchase would close this month. The city would also acquire the right of way held by the state under the purchase agreement.
“We knew if we were able to aggregate these two properties, we’d have a good piece of land for redevelopment for truly affordable housing, most likely low-income housing,” Engen said. “Our intention is to purchase the property and operate it as a non-congregant shelter for as long as we need to during the pandemic, and then we could pivot and move into a redevelopment opportunity.”
Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.
The other thing about the Sleepy Inn motel, and almost all the other “cheap” motels in Missoula, is that they can be rather nasty, exploitive businesses, charging their housing-insecure customers anywhere from $200-$300 dollars a week to get bitten by bed bugs and harassed by tweakers.
Another interesting thing about these “cheap” motels in America is that half of them are owned by East Indian families, but take that from me, here’s the opening paragraph from the Smithsonian Magazine:
Stop in at a motel anywhere in the U.S., and you are likely to find an Indian-American family at the helm of it. At least half of America’s motels are owned by Indian-Americans, and 70 percent of these are owned by people from the same region of India—Gujarat, a state on the nation’s northwest coast. Since the 1940s, Indian-Americans have built a sprawling network of motels across the U.S., laying down roots and bringing in their extended families, generation after generation. The contributions of these immigrant entrepreneurs are explored in the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s new exhibition, “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” which is now open at the Natural History Museum.
I don’t blame east Indian families for taking money from desperate people who can’t formally rent because of issues like bad credit, criminal history, mental health issues and addiction issues. These families chasing the American dream didn’t create a society that criminalizes poverty while protecting criminal bankers who create economy-killing ponzi schemes knowing their buddies at the Fed will always be there to bail them out, so why blame them for seeing an opportunity and working hard to achieve some degree of material comfort?
But it is ugly and exploitive, at least it was to me as I was begging certain motel managers to not kick out my clients after they spent nearly their entire disability check on “rent”.
I did a lot to form positive relationships with motel managers during my time working at the shelter. When I was doing outreach a lot of the calls that would come in would be from motel managers giving me the chance to help out BEFORE they kicked someone out of a room, and often I was able to mediate and prevent those unofficial evictions.
Motel managers put up with an incredible amount of insane shit because they are daily dealing with our societal failures with mentally ill and addicted people. Warm Springs will literally discharge someone from the state hospital directly to a motel room.
Sometimes Warm Springs would try to discharge people to the Poverello Center, which is a pretty terrible discharge plan if you ask me. I remember the shelter saying no to one person in particular because of her history the last time Warm Springs discharged her. A few days later I got a call from a motel manager about this woman, who immediately stopped taking her meds and started drinking with an old alcoholic in the next room over.
If the city can run a less exploitive “non-congregant shelter” where the Sleepy Inn currently sits, great. That will marginally improve the situation as it stands in Missoula.
But, like I said, I don’t trust Engen for one hot second, so if there’s something else brewing I’m going to do my level best to find out what it is.
If any readers know anything, or would like to drop me a line and tell me how awesome I am, my email is willskink at yahoo dot com.
Thank for reading.