by William Skink
On the longest night of the year, Missoula service providers get together to hold a memorial for the people who died without homes in Missoula. One of the names written on a ratty piece of cardboard this year was Sean Stevenson.
Here is one the statements from the event, as reported by NBC Montana:
“No one should die on the streets alone, and I think as a community it’s really important to work towards more housing options for everyone to make sure no one has to die on the streets,” said Allison Thompson.
While these generalities articulated by Amy Thompson, the director of the Poverello Center, apply to many of the names being remembered, they do not apply to Sean Stevenson. Why? Because Sean Stevenson didn’t die on the street WITHOUT shelter, he died because of violence he experienced INSIDE the shelter.
When the physical altercation that led to Sean’s death occurred in January of this year, the Poverello Center was serving more homeless individuals than the building was ever designed to serve. In addition to allowing overcrowding, the Poverello Center ALSO changed its policy the month before to allow people using drugs and alcohol to stay. This was done at the behest of the city.
The Poverello wouldn’t talk specifically about that incident. They were able to explain how they train their staff to deal with those situations.
“We focus on de-escalation training that really supports folks, and really works to help them calm down,” said Allison-Thompson
The Poverello’s policy of who can and can’t come in, changed back in November.
“We specifically focus on a behavior-based policy, so as long as people’s behavior in the building is appropriate, they are welcome to stay,” Allison-Thompson told NBC Montana.
They say it was a recommendation by the city. “We felt good moving into that, because it is a best practice nationwide to be a behavior-based shelter,” said Allison-Thompson. “So we’re actually following the lead of shelters around the nation in that.”
While Missoula’s recent focus on the complex issue of homelessness has been directed at our latest bandaid fix, called the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, I think our community needs to more seriously reflect on this past year so we can ask ourselves how safe the already existing INDOOR spaces are for those individuals experiencing homelessness.
But, in order for a genuine accounting to occur, we need to know what actually happened to Sean Stevenson inside the Poverello Center on January 3rd and the sequence of events that led to his removal from life support on January 5th at St. Pats.
In the subsequent year since Sean Stevenson’s death, I have been in communication with his family. They reached out to me because my blog was reporting more accurate information than what they were being told by authorities at the time regarding the young man who allegedly got into a fight with Sean, strangling him unconscious.
On December 9th I recorded a 90 minute interview with two of Sean’s siblings. Our hope is to release the interview on the year anniversary of Sean’s death, which is January 5th, but before I can do that I need to better understand the legal risk I am taking in doing so.
From my conversations with Sean’s family members, it is my understanding that the Missoula County Attorney’s office required the Stevenson family to sign a legal document indicating they would not share ANY documents related to Sean’s death, including images from his autopsy.
If the investigation is done, and the County Attorney’s office is satisfied they made the correct call in determining Johnny Lee Perry used justifiable force in self defense when he strangled Sean Stevenson unconscious in the men’s dorm at the Poverello Center, then WHY would the family be legally barred from sharing documents related to the investigation?
That is just one of the questions the Stevenson family has about the tragic death of their family member in Missoula. There are many others.
If anyone has any information about what happened to Sean Stevenson at the Poverello Center on January 3rd, 2020, my email contact is willskink at yahoo dot com.