Susan Hay Patrick’s Damage Control Op-Ed About The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space: A Rebuttal

by Travis Mateer

I’m posting this under my real name because I want it to be clear that this response to Susan Hay Patrick’s op-ed is coming from me, the former Homeless Outreach Coordinator of the Poverello Center.

In her Sunday guest column, Patrick begins by emphasizing the temporary nature of the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, the federal funding it has received, and its placement on private land. The belief we are being asked to share is that this space has the potential to reduce demand on emergency service providers, our health care system, and law enforcement.

Instead of contextualizing the current demand on emergency service providers as it relates to homelessness in Missoula, Patrick quickly transitions in the next paragraph to taking a position of victimhood, claiming that she (and the non-profit world she is speaking for) are accustomed to being told we are ruining our community.

By taking this position of rhetorical victimhood, Patrick is negatively framing her critics before even addressing them. Even better, after claiming this victimhood, her next move is to brazenly declare the rightness of the actions being undertaken:

But we also know that this is the right thing — the safe, healthier thing — not only for the unhoused people who will have access to the space during this cold COVID winter, but for our community.

The fourth paragraph is where we finally get to Susan Hay Patrick getting it, and we waited all that time for this:

To those who oppose this project: We get it. You’re good people who care about and do a lot for your community. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. We know you’re angry and frustrated. We have that in common with you. Because we’re angry and frustrated, too.

Let’s pause for a moment to think about HOW Susan Hay Patrick is framing critics; she refers to them as those who OPPOSE this project.

Is that what is going on here? Are people simply OPPOSING this project, or are they ASKING QUESTIONS about this project? Because there’s a difference.

After some platitudes about why Patrick shares our anger and frustration (deflecting local failure by referencing our national one) we get this:

We’re not going to Poverello Center or United Way or Hope Rescue Mission our way to the end of homelessness, or by putting people up for temporary stays in cheap motels. The answer to homelessness is housing.

So, maybe we can BLUE LINE DEVELOPMENT our way to ending homelessness, is that what you’re saying, Susan Hay Patrick?

I know it would be easier to dismiss the critics if we were all just dumb haters who simply opposed this homeless camp because our small, little minds see dangerous sex offenders behind every bush, but the questions about funding, and zoning, and skipping public input, and intake processes, and the convenient tie-in to Blue Line Development, are valid, appropriate things for concerned citizens to be asking of their non-profit leaders and elected officials.

Near the end of the op-ed, the future success of our community is made conditional on critics not being angry. I am struggling to understand how this statement is JUST A FACT:

“…until everyone moves beyond anger, we’re going to be stuck in the same cycle we’ve been in for decades: cobbling together underfunded emergency projects instead of working on finding appropriate, sustainable homes for our very diverse population of people experiencing homelessness. That’s just a fact.”

What about the fact that, at the same time we cobble together underfunded emergency projects year after year, we are also funding a new library, and new schools, and new parks, and open spaces, and fairground improvements, and traffic-calming circles, and Spider McKnight crafted communication plans?

No, just ignore all that, because the problem isn’t how resources are prioritized and allocated, it’s angry critics who can’t move beyond their anger.

I think that’s a bunch of crap, and that’s NOT a fact, just one angry critic’s humble opinion.

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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