The Challenges Of Triaging Homelessness And The Political Reluctance To Acknowledge Failure Is Making The Streets Of Missoula Dangerous For Service Providers

by Travis Mateer

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to write a letter of support for someone trying to get into housing. This man has been staying at the Poverello Center for years because his offender status from an old statutory rape charge is a significant barrier, but with a new caseworker from Winds of Change, maybe he finally has a chance.

This morning I read an email response from the caseworker about the chaotic dynamics she is witnessing outside her workplace because Winds of Change has its office space in a building right across from the Poverello Center. I was recently in this area speaking with Mayoral candidate Shawn Knopp, who works at Montana Glass, so I know what she’s talking about.

Here is a quote from the caseworker’s email to me: “I’ve seen stuff that is appalling going on between the Winds of Change building and the Pov. I’ve been so shocked and appalled I have no idea even how to respond or what to say.”

After reading this caseworker’s email, I was scanning local headlines for what to write about today when I saw that a male caseworker from Winds of Change had a knife pulled him by a client on Tuesday. Here is a portion of that story:

Officers spoke to the victim at Winds of Change. He was sitting down and was noticeably upset. His voice was broken and shook when he began to tell what happened.

“Staff escorted Neil out of the building because they were concerned for the safety of those around Neil,” Arnold said. “Neil produced a knife and threatened a staff member with it. Neil was located a short time later by officers. He was taken into custody and a knife was located on his person. No person was injured during the incident.”

On his way out of the building, Neil shoved another patient out of his way. The victim followed Neil outside to make sure he left. Neil continued to be “super aggressive” and called the victim a “Mother F****r”. Neil was also punching his bike and picking it up and throwing it at Lu and the victim.

At one point, the victim became concerned for Lu’s safety and stepped in front of her while putting his arm out to keep Neil away. Neil then took out a knife and came at the victim. The victim said he thought Neil was going to kill him. The victim felt that he needed to defend himself and started to go after Neil, but Neil then took off.

Another staffer said she had let people into the business and locked the doors behind them twice during the incident. The staffer said she was also concerned for Lu’s safety, who left with Neil after the incident. The staffer said Neil was acting aggressive earlier in the day and she knew he was on meth.

I know exactly how unsettling a situation like this can be because I’ve been in similar situations with unstable homeless clients threatening me with knives. It’s not just unsettling, it’s traumatic, and it’s a big reason why support staff, like case management, has a VERY HIGH turnover rate.

In the email I was asked if I had any ideas on how to help the situation at the shelter. My response is we need accountability at the top regarding Missoula’s immense failure known as the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, starting with the leadership at United Way of Missoula County.

Until that happens, we won’t be able to have an honest conversation about why Missoula’s 10 year plan to end homelessness is such a monumental failure.

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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1 Response to The Challenges Of Triaging Homelessness And The Political Reluctance To Acknowledge Failure Is Making The Streets Of Missoula Dangerous For Service Providers

  1. Pingback: Where The Wild Things Are, Montana Edition | Reptile Dysfunction

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