Lived Experience As Homeless Euphemism And The Current Status Of Missoula’s Coordinated Entry System

by Travis Mateer

I’ve been researching the current capacity of Missoula’s Coordinated Entry System for people who are experiencing homelessness because a well-functioning system SHOULD be a talking point for local officials who are now scrambling to explain why they’ve been so sneaky in planning ANOTHER official outdoor homeless camp like the TSOS.

The link above goes to more reporting from Madison Doner at NBC Montana about why emails obtained by citizen Mackenzie Smith indicate local officials CONSCIOUSLY used United Way and private partners to conceal planning from the public.

Here’s Missoula County’s Chief Administrative Officer deploying the phrase LIVED EXPERIENCE to try and explain away the need for subterfuge. From the first link:

In Lounsbury’s email, he stated the need to involve United Way to create a planning group outside the public and media’s eyes, so we asked him why that was said.

“What we were asking United Way, Hope Rescue Mission and the Poverello Center is to go out and work with these groups and give us lived experience knowledge that we don’t have as government employees and the commissioners don’t have as government workers, and I think that lived experience is kind of the crucial key piece, and I think if folks look at that and understand that there is a privacy interest for the folks that are sharing that information with us,” said Lounsbury.

If I’m interpreting this phrase correctly, “lived experience” is a euphemism for people experiencing homelessness, so what Lounsbury is saying is that they had to be sneaky to protect the information of homeless individuals.

This doesn’t make sense to me, especially considering the existence of Missoula’s Coordinated Entry System, which is supposed to be assessing homeless individuals and putting their data into the Homeless Management Information System.

After Lounsbury’s quote I VERY MUCH enjoyed the following juxtaposition from Doner’s article:

That reasoning isn’t in the email. Instead, he writes planning stopped two times before because of the media and public.

Once again it appears our local officials are using homeless people as shields to protect themselves from public scrutiny. They are ALSO using financial barriers, considering additional emails won’t be disclosed unless a processing fee to the tune of around $800 dollars is paid.

I know this little fact after listening to Mackenzie Smith speak in a Zoom meeting earlier this week about her research. Why so much money, you might be wondering? Well, because a Chief Administrative Officer like Chris Lounsbury is going to have to do some REDACTING in order to protect that LIVED EXPERIENCE.

In our interview, Lounsbury told us the county will share information with the public only after redacting personal information.

“I think it’s really appropriate and really important for us to bring all of that to the public so that the public can weigh in on those things, but that piece of lived experience, I think we do have a need to provide those people some degree of space,” said Lounsbury.

I am now VERY curious about why so much “lived experience” was being discussed in these email conversations planning more outdoor homeless camps.

I am also curious why Missoula’s Coordinated Entry System, which launched FOUR years ago, continues facing capacity challenges.

After making a few calls yesterday I learned that the Salvation Army, once touted as a “front door” for MCES, is currently NOT a front door because the ONE person they had trained to do the assessments, Julie, is no longer there. Someone else has been hired, but they are waiting to be trained.

Another organization once advertised as a front door no longer publicly advertises itself as such for reasons of legitimate client safety.

That leaves just the Poverello Center and 211 as front door agencies.

Of course there are A BUNCH of “partner” agencies, which you can find here (thanks Emily!). The one organization I had never heard before is apparently some Silicon valley tech thing that’s very empathetic and totally going to solve homelessness with their Outreach Grid.

Here’s a little more from their about page:

As engineers from Silicon Valley who saw the potential of technology for applications of convenience, surveillance, and everything in between, we wanted to figure out how to harness technology towards social good. We envisioned stronger cities and better access to care.

Our first problem to tackle: Make homelessness understandable, quantifiable, and combatable.

Well, shit, I guess I was all worried about nothing. If engineers from Silicon Valley are on the job, rest assured things will get better.

Because that’s what happened after the 2018 launch of the SNAPCRAP APP in San Francisco. Right?

Please note this is not The Onion:

It sounds like an episode of “Silicon Valley,” the HBO show that skewers computer programmers and their sometimes silly ideas.

A 24-year-old moves to San Francisco for a tech job, rents a room in a “hacker house” on Sixth Street, finds way too much poop on the sidewalk outside for his liking, and creates an app to report it. And, in the cherry on top of this smelly sundae, he names his creation Snapcrap.

Yes, the whole point of Sean Miller’s aptly named app is to snap a photo of crap and report it to the city for cleanup. In some cities, people whip out smartphones for selfies in front of gorgeous museums or stunning vistas. Here, we whip out our smartphones for poop pics.

I don’t have a picture of poop to conclude this post, but when I volunteered to pick up trash in April at the Reserve Street encampment I came across a plastic sack filled with rocks placed in a side channel of spring runoff.

After I took the picture (then removed the bag) I showed it to the organizer and told him no one will believe that I didn’t set this shot up because it too perfectly encapsulates my frustrations.

So here it is:

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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4 Responses to Lived Experience As Homeless Euphemism And The Current Status Of Missoula’s Coordinated Entry System

  1. J. Kevin Hunt says:

    This is more important than ever, given yesterday’s news that the County Commissioners are mulling over possible opening of a second TSOS on County land.

    The lack of “front door” facilities keeps the Engen TIF Train rolling as the monopoly railroad. The rate of human processing is thereby limited, as it is by the charity/volunteerist model of outreach. This is commensurate with the Mayor’s euphemism “end homelessness in Missoula,” which we recently learned really means attaining “Functional Zero,” the “state of equilibrium at which the number of newly houseless Missoulians in a particular timeframe equals the number of already houseless who attain housing in the same timeframe.”

    I’m not as suspicious as you that the Commissioners’ motives were malevolent, but such flagrant disregard of our Montana Constitutional Right to Know is nothing short of deplorable.

    How about taking up a collection from your readers and listeners for that $800 search fee?

    Note, that this is under Article II, sections 8 through 10 of the Montana constitution and the provisions of Montana Code Annotated Title 2, chapter 6, parts 10 through 12. “Montana Public Records Law” should be used rather than “FOIA,” as the latter is a federal statute applicable to the federal government, only.

    Keep uncovering and reporting the truth!

  2. J. Kevin Hunt says:

    I will be interviewed by Brady Brewster of KECI/NBC MT via zoom, with fellow city council candidate Daniel Carlino, this afternoon, re our joint press release denouncing Western MT Mental Health Center’s advertising for $2M it’s W. Broadway “Bridge Apts.” built with TIF from City of Msla and 14 grants in 1998. This would displace some of our most vulnerable fellow Missoulians with mental illness or who live entirely on disability payments, from 20 apts.. WMMHC had a “housing first approach” in 1998 and moved clients into the 20 units of affordable special needs housing. The grant restrictions requiring continued affordability have expired and there is a new CEO. The CEO & Board of Directors decided managing the Bridge no longer served WMMHC’s business model, “coincidentally” with the acme of market rate housing. The ad for the two bkdgs already lists them as “vacant” and shows pics of empty hallways and rooms… See our press release below:


    May 20, 2021


    Kevin Hunt –
    Tel. (917) 295-1969

    Daniel Carlino –
    Tel. 406-239-2240

    MISSOULA — Ward 1 Missoula City Council hopeful Kevin Hunt and Ward 3 contender Daniel Carlino on Thursday issued a joint statement proposing a plan to save special needs tenants — former clients of Western Montana Mental Health Center — from displacement due to WMMHC’s listing for $2 million sale its 20-units of West Broadway affordable housing built with public funds and occupied by tenants with mental illness or surviving solely on disability benefits. The two candidates also joined in denouncing the decision to sell as devastating to those tenants.

    “We unite today in our strong disapproval of this latest example of recipients of public funds for affordable housing who exploit our acute housing emergency for immense profits, in this instance dumping the very people they received public money to serve” they said.

    The two candidates called upon WMMHC to “forthwith rescind its decision to sell at record-high market rates this special needs housing while we are in the throes of an extreme housing emergency.”

    “We further implore Mayor Engen to immediately enter into negotiations to acquire this community resource, by purchase or, if necessary, by eminent domain,” they continued, explaining that “Missoula’s receipt of $14 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds provides a debt-free means of permanently securing this property for special needs Missoulians.”

    Hunt noted that coincidentally, he learned Wednesday from inquiry of the Mayor’s office that on Tuesday, the city received a federal guidance letter for its use of the COVID-19 relief funds. Hunt said he has submitted a Public Records Act request for a copy of that Guidance Letter.

    Carlino said that WMMHC’s rationale for selling the two affordable apartment buildings which house some of our most vulnerable citizens — that managing them no longer served the multi-county provider’s business model – “seems at odds with the spirit of WMMHC’s web site declaration that its services will not be denied due to disability, housing status, or inability to pay.”

    Both candidates questioned the timing of the decision to sell the housing. The Center says the buildings’ sale at market rate will improve services to WMMHC clients throughout Western Montana, and that the Center could not find a buyer willing to maintain the low rents for the Center’s clients it placed in the residence years ago upon construction of the facility with state and federal funds.

    “We note that the Center’s Board of Directors is populated with County Commissioners and other elected officials from throughout Western Montana. We think donation of the buildings to the community or sale at reasonable price to the city or to Missoula County — recipient of $23 Million in federal pandemic relief funds — should have first been pursued,” they said.

    — 30—

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