by William Skink
After years of trying to figure out some kind of reason–ANY REASON–to use the land around the Reserve Street bridge, it looks like the Montana Department of Transportation has finally figured out something to do.
What that something is is not yet being spelled out, but the reason WHY a reason had to be found is pretty obvious: the homeless camps.
After setting the scene, this KPAX piece explains why the Poverello Center is planting the seeds of relocation in the minds of the inhabitants of the sprawling encampments:
The Montana Department of Transportation is looking at various options for using that space which would require the encampment to, in effect, dissolve. Thompson and her team have been collaborating with MDT in an effort to come up with a plan that works for everyone. She says the options for those that would have to relocate is sparse, at best.
“Unfortunately, there are not any safe options in our community,” Thompson said. “The Poverello Center is full every single day. We are at max capacity. At this time we are seeing a significant increase in un-sheltered homelessness in our community. We’re seeing the Reserve Street encampment increase pretty significantly.”
Thompson says they are working on delaying any changes that would force those in the encampment to relocate at this time.
“What we’re hearing is they’re really fearful, they’re not sure where they can go,” Thompson said.
Obviously a director of a homeless shelter is constrained by the ideas she/he can float to the public, so it’s a good thing I’m not a director of a homeless shelter, because I have all kinds of ideas.
First, establish a leader of the encampments by popular vote. That leader can live where City Council used to show up in person to disperse public tax money to developers and consultants from Florida. Since this important city business can be accomplished through Zoom meetings, that critical space downtown is unoccupied.
Once this leadership is established, take a needs assessment of current and past locations where people have illegally camped. From my days working at the shelter I can tell you there have been encampments near Buckhouse Bridge, Grant Creek (where the old Ruby’s once stood), Rattlesnake creek, the woods in Bonner at the end of Mountain Line’s service route, the Kim Williams trail, and various empty lots around town.
After the needs assessment, use the Pandemic to identify outside-the-box options that only a hyped health crisis can make possible. After all, the director of the homeless shelter is using the pandemic to try and guilt MDOT from carrying through on whatever it is they plan on doing:
“Asking an encampment to relocate in the middle of a global pandemic is not a good thing. I understand the need for a solution of some sort, but at this time without any alternative for folks, I think we’re putting people in a really challenging place.”
Ok, since Thompson is devoid of imagination (out of necessity due to fealty to funders), let me do some spitballing for her.
Alternative 1: Osprey Stadium
I think this is a great option, though maybe not so much once the weather turns. There could even be music provided (remotely, of course) by Logjam Presents to raise the spirits of the relocated campers. Maybe a few campers could even provide a small payment (portion of disability check, if they have one) to Nick Checota, since the pandemic destroyed his business model. Also, local musicians will get to play for an audience. EVERYONE WINS!
Alternative 2: University of Montana
Again, if I say so myself, this is another great option. Who really believes UM is going to have the physical bodies of students on campus for long? So let’s just speed up the inevitable and relocate campers to campus. See how close those two words are? It’s like it was meant to be. Another bonus, the campers could attend classes on the benefits of Tax Increment Financing while simultaneously being prepared to replace the service sector workers who are back living with parents.
Alternative 3: Caras Park
This would be a controversial option, but the silver lining (to only be discussed in back rooms far from recording equipment) would be the exploitation of the CAZ (Caras Autonomous Zone) in order to create chaos, which will lead to an uprising of reasonable Missoula citizens begging for the TOTAL REVAMPING of Caras Park in line with the Downtown Masterplan (which will have to be renamed because it has the word master in it.
See, just off the top of my head I have provided both actual locations around our community where people have camped in the past, and three outside-the-box alternatives for consideration.
Just imagine what I could do with a little funding?