Cleaning Up The Homeless Camp: A Former Service Provider’s Concern

by Travis Mateer

I ended last week with an email sent off in frustration after the cleanup I was going to participate in was derailed. I’ll include the email, in full, at the bottom of this post.

Before getting to the email I want to provide a little speculation about why stakeholders like the Poverello Center and United Way are not acting in good faith with cleanup organizers.

There are two questions that I am starting to think homeless advocates don’t want answered, and that’s WHY people are living out there and WHAT is actually going on.

I’m not going to start answering those questions in this post, although, when you read the email, you’ll get an idea of some of the larger dynamics at play.


To whom it may concern,

I’m sending this email to Kevin Davis with the hope that he can forward it to those involved in the clean up efforts. My name is Travis Mateer and I worked at the Poverello Center from 2008-2016. I was directly involved with collaborative efforts in this area that once included the Health Department and Clark Fork Coalition. After I left my job a number of factors led to a change in course that has brought us to where we are today.

I was involved with last Friday’s clean-up and, though the clean-up part was productive, I was VERY discouraged to see how bad this area has gotten again after so many personal hours spent tactfully working to remove tons and tons of trash over the years.

One item I found in the trash was a young Native woman’s ID. This validates my concern about how areas like these can function, especially in the warmer months when seasonal transient activity increases.

I spoke about these concern in a Zoom meeting earlier this week with the Missing Indigenous Woman’s Task Force. They were very receptive about my description of homeless encampments and motels being places touched by human trafficking and meth abuse. I wonder what they would think about citizens like myself and Kevin getting lectured to by homeless advocates about our good-faith efforts to address what they are enabling?

As a citizen of this community I don’t need permission from my former employer to continue the work I was once paid to do, and did well. I also won’t ignore the stories I hear DIRECTLY FROM CLIENTS about why some residents of this camp don’t feel safe staying at the Poverello Center. Incidents of sexual assault and violence INSIDE THE POV is confirmation of those claims that some people feel safer living outside than they do in an overcrowded shelter where active drug and alcohol use has led to some very bad outcomes.

Instead of doing a clean up today, like I was planning on doing, I’m going to take other actions in order to more accurately describe what our problems are as a community for those without my direct experience and historical understanding of this complicated issue.

I’ll work with anyone who wants to be a part of the solution here, and I want to thank Kevin specifically for persisting with his volunteer efforts, despite the many unnecessary barriers he has experienced during his involvement.

If anyone has concerns about Kevin’s work, please know that he is consulting regularly with me, a former service provider with a decade of experience working with vulnerable populations. And if anyone wants to speak with me directly, my phone number is 406-529-1655.

Thank you,

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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3 Responses to Cleaning Up The Homeless Camp: A Former Service Provider’s Concern

  1. Angela says:

    Looks like the ball is in their court, but based on past observations, they’ll probably just walk around the ball while getting paid to research and talk about it.

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