On Trying To Understand Martin Kidston’s Confusing Reporting Regarding Reserve Street Homeless Camps And MDOT’s Fence Strategy

by Travis Mateer

The Missoula Current is finally reporting on the fires that have been happening at the homeless camps around the Reserve Street bridge, but only in the context of new efforts by the Montana Department of Transportation to build a fence:

After exploring its options and several fires, the Montana Department of Transportation on Wednesday said it will erect a fence under the Reserve Street bridge and begin moving illegal campers to an alternative site once it’s established by the city and county of Missoula.

Yes, those three bolded words are all the Current needs, apparently, in order for its readers to understand the need for a state agency to spend tax money on a fence.

But what if downplaying the 16 fires that have occurred in this area JUST SINCE JUNE causes MC readers to see this as MDOT overkill? Is that a possibility?

The article continues manipulating its readers with its description of the alternatives to the illegal encampments where all these fires have been occurring. Here’s the confusing reporting:

The decision comes as local government and their partners look to expand the shelter options for homeless individuals, including a sanctioned outdoor camp behind the Super Walmart, transitional housing and a safe outdoor camp at another location in the city.

I have read this paragraphs several times and STILL find it confusing. The way these three options are being described, it sounds like all three are being developed for use, but I do not think that is accurate.

My understanding–after doing MUCH MORE reporting on this than the Missoula Current, and actually speaking with Adriane Beck of the Office of Emergency Management–is that ONLY ONE of these three options selected by the Incident Command Team will be developed for use.

And, once that happens, the campers at Reserve will be relocated.

Later in the article, the work of the Incident Command Team is referenced, and it doesn’t clear up my confusion. Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet this morning. Here’s how Kidston explains the work that was done, and the results:

Earlier this month, the city and county of Missoula agreed to explore the recommendations of a task force assigned with finding shelter options for the area’s homeless residents, especially as capacity limits remain in place due to coronavirus concerns.

One of those options include a sanctioned site that could serve as a legal, minimally supported campground. It would effectively replace the illegal campsite under the Reserve Street bridge.

Adrian Beck, the director of emergency management in Missoula County and head of the incident management team assigned to the shelter task, said city property on Clark Fork Lane behind the Super Walmart on North Reserve is the preferred site.

“If we’re trying to address illegal camping in the urban wild, we need to be intentional about whether it’s easy to find,” Beck said recently. “This other location, wherever it is, needs to be easy to find, and it needs to be accessible to emergency services.”

The part I bolded about a preferred site already being identified is VERY problematic for the simple fact the public has had NO OPPORTUNITY yet to provide input on the other options.

I told Adriane Beck the lack of public input is going to make any option a tough sell, and this reporting by the Missoula Current just made it worse.

I would love to hear our four mayoral candidates talk about this issue in person at the City Club forum on August 9th, but I doubt we’ll get that chance. One of those candidates, Greg Strandberg, predicted the suspension of this event in a comment on Tuesday, and later that day the city council forum that was scheduled to occur at the County Courthouse was postponed.

If the mayoral candidates DO get a chance to discuss this issue in an open forum, I hope the abysmal job of local media outlets like the Missoula Current is pointed out, because without an informed public, we get shit like 16 years of intoxicated handshakes and fat jokes.

Time for a change?

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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