by Travis Mateer
This is what damage control looks like.
Missoula County officials and some non-profit collaborators are hitting back after SOME of their email scheming got exposed to sunlight thanks to Missoula citizen, Mackenzie Smith.
Before getting to the damage control it’s important to note that one private entity you will hear NOTHING about is Blue Line Development. Why is that?
Recent claims contend Missoula County officials are trying to keep our constituents in the dark by working with private nonprofits to find solutions to the homelessness crisis, presumably to avoid public involvement and input.
Putting aside the cherry-picked narrative, the fact is that Missoula County has collaborated with United Way, and many other community partners, in numerous capacities over the years, including on issues like homelessness.
The irony of this statement framing the criticism as “cherry-picking” can only be appreciated when you understand how much effort has gone into NOT discussing the role of Blue Line Development in the TSOS. That is why this statement specifies private nonprofits.
These partners often have the expertise and relationships necessary for finding solutions to complicated problems, and these collaborations ensure we work toward solutions as efficiently and effectively as possible without duplicating efforts.
This part of the statement seems to reference United Way, but if United Way had the expertise and relationships necessary for finding solutions to complicated problems, like homelessness, then the 10 Year Plan To End Homelessness wouldn’t have been moved from United Way oversight to the City.
If solving homelessness were easy, we would have done it already. The reality is that homelessness is complicated, and people find themselves without a home for numerous reasons. As we work toward community-wide solutions to homelessness, both short- and long-term, we must consider the perspective of those who’ve experienced it, not just assume we can find the answers on our own.
Here we see the beginning of the setup to justify public officials discussing how to hide their scheming from the public and the media. Since homelessness is such a difficult issue our lofty officials must seek out that “lived experience” and since they are discussing individual situations, then they have to occlude their emails from public scrutiny.
The problem, though, is if we had functioning systems, like a robust Coordinated Entry System, then our public officials should NOT have to be getting into the weeds of individual situations.
But it’s those individual situations our public officials are exploiting in order to circumvent public involvement in their schemes.
Here is how homeless people are being used as shields for our elected leaders and nonprofit influencers:
The county’s community partners, which include agencies like United Way and Hope Rescue Mission, have developed trusting relationships with these folks. The vulnerable, emotional conversations that must take place for us to get below the surface and to the root of the issue can only occur in an environment of comfort and trust.
Is Dave Strohmaier a License Addiction Counselor? Is Susan Hay Patrick a psychologist? Is Jim Hicks an expert on Adverse Childhood Experiences?
If the answer to those questions is NO, then what the fuck are they doing having emotional conversations with vulnerable individuals? That is NOT their role and it is NOT appropriate for them to be engaging in the direct delivery of services to homeless individuals.
It gets worse when you realize that homeless individuals were publicly trotted out recently in a PR event to help cover the asses of these same officials, which they of course reference in their rebuttal to the critics:
We had the privilege of hearing some of these stories first-hand during the most recent public forum on the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, where several residents spoke about how the space is helping them get back on their feet and into permanent housing and the workforce. We applaud these individuals for sharing their experiences in such a contentious setting. It’s not reasonable or compassionate, though, to expect those experiencing homelessness to share their personal stories with a public audience at every turn.
I agree that our officials are NOT acting in a reasonable or compassionate manner when they hide behind homeless clients to avoid accountability. That’s a bunch of cowardly bullshit and it needs to stop yesterday.
At least our officials use some of their PR real estate to THANK their human shields for the role they are playing in this charade:
We’re grateful for these individuals who share their experiences, as well as for the staff, both public and private, who work hard to develop and maintain their trust. Knowing them and their stories have helped our community develop effective strategies like the TSOS, about which the county has held four public meetings since it was announced in November.
That’s about all the analysis I can stomach for today. You can read the rest of the rebuttal at the Missoula Current and the Missoulian, but for some odd reason NBC Montana had to request a copy:
Earlier this week, we told you about email communications between top Missoula County officials and nonprofit leaders planning a second homeless site.
It would be in addition to the temporary tent camp south of Missoula on Highway 93.
Some of the emails show a discussion over keeping talks of a second site from the public and the media and state that two other plans derailed because of public involvement.
Now the county commissioners, Chief Administrative Officer Chris Lounsbury and the heads of the United Way and Hope Rescue Mission wrote an opinion column which was published in the Missoulian and online at the Missoula Current.
We requested a copy of it.
I bolded that last part because I think it’s significant (and petty) that our elected officials and nonprofit influencers are so weary of NBC Montana’s reporting that they (purposefully?) withheld a copy of their damage control op-ed.
Are these adults we’re dealing with or petulant children?
Here’s an idea: if you don’t like scrutiny from the media and the public, then maybe stop soliciting votes and donations from us, because when you derive your existence from public votes and public charity, you better expect some public curiosity about what you’re doing with the time we pay for and the resources we help generate through giving.