by Travis Mateer
Yesterday I was downtown preparing to visit Stockman’s Bank to take some pictures of art when I noticed a press conference happening on the Courthouse lawn. As I approached the political announcement featuring our Mayor and all three County Commissioners I realized it was about homelessness.
I’m glad I had to wait until this morning to read the actual substance of the announcement because, had I heard what our political establishment said while there in person, I might have been inspired to make more of a scene than I did, with my loud hello to Susan Hay Patrick of United Way and slow golf clap after Engen wrapped up, shouting GREAT PERFORMANCE!
Now, after reading some of the quotes, I’m convinced my proclamation was accurate. This was a VERY GREAT performance intended to create the impression that our political establishment is being appropriately responsive to homeless encampments and all the challenges that come with this symptom of a collapsing crony capitalist system fueled by greed and exploitation.
The core of the POLICY that was announced yesterday is the elevation of homelessness to the level of CRITICAL. What does this mean? It means deploying an INCIDENT COMMAND TEAM to find nice places for the houseless to camp. From the link:
“What we’ve decided to do is deploy an incident command team to treat this as a critical incident in the county,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen.
The incident command team, led by Adriane Beck with the Office of Emergency Management, will compile a list of possible legal places to camp. They’ll bring the list to commissioners and begin the public process. That’s when you’ll be able to submit ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wonder if finding “legal places to camp” will be facilitated by Outreach Grid, an app from a California tech company called Appledore. The link takes you to a bunch of media articles on this new app for tracking homeless people, like this one from Forbes about the young social entrepreneur from San Francisco, Tiffany Pang:
Concerned about the rising homeless population in San Francisco, Pang left her job in Silicon Valley to start Outreach Grid. The company uses data and technology to build connections with underserved populations and provides city departments, service agencies, and community members with the tools to help homeless people find housing.
Even though Missoula’s strategy to address its homeless problem/housing crisis will include apps from Irvine, California and this company from Portland, our political establishment declared yesterday that we WILL NOT become an urban hellscape like Seattle. Here is the quote the Missoulian highlighted on Twitter:
Exactly HOW will we never allow ourselves to look like the major metro areas of the Northwest? Just wait for the amazing things this INCIDENT COMMAND TEAM will be doing, says the political braintrust:
“Look at Seattle and say how did they happen — it’s because no one did what we’re going to do right now,” said Slotnick.
A big part of the plan involves relocating those in places like the Reserve Street camp while enforcing a ban on illegal urban camping, but officials say they’re not going to “chase” anyone out of Missoula.
“We’re not in the business of clearing that Reserve Street site until we have someplace for people to go, that was a challenge at Broadway and if I had it to do over again, we’d have a place for those folks to go rather than just have them move most likely to Reserve Street,” said Engen. “That was my mistake.”
Finding other outdoor locations for homeless encampments doesn’t sound like a brilliant innovation, even if fancy tech apps are involved.
Another problem is the fact that citizen efforts to clean up trash at Reserve Street have been directly undermined by people like Susan Hay Patrick of United Way.
Why are citizen efforts to be a part of the solution being stymied? And why the timing now of this announcement? Could it be the fact our Mayor is seeking his FIFTH term as Mayor of Missoula?
Yes, EVERYTHING emitting from the PR glands of our elected officials should be seen through the lens of our current political season where TEAM GENTRIFY is feeling the heat produced by extreme socio-economic stratification.
Today I’m going to visit the camps at Reserve Street to take more video evidence of this socio-economic stratification. I’m also going to gauge how many residents are aware of the new political motivation coming from elected officials to relocate them long enough to win Engen another Mayoral election.
So stay tuned…