After Years Of Inaction, Missoula City/County Leaders Are Claiming It’s Now Time To Clean Up The Reserve Street Homeless Encampment

by Travis Mateer

The years of inaction mentioned in the title of this post occurred after I left my job as the Homeless Outreach Coordinator of the Poverello Center in 2016. For a more detailed history of my approach to this difficult work, check out this post from last summer.

The news that posted late last week about the clean-up plans, which are apparently set to launch this week, is incredibly confusing. I’m not sure if I can attribute this to the vacuous style of Gomer Kidston, or the information he had to deal with.

Regardless, let’s take a look at what’s being reported so I can add my assessment from years of direct experience working to address the complicated issues in this area of our valley. From the link:

With the clock ticking on the longevity of the Reserve Street homeless camp, Missoula city and county officials plan to coordinate cleanup efforts, future enforcement, and management of alternative shelter options for the unhoused.

My first reaction to this initial framing from Kidston is this: how does one place a ticking clock on longevity? My second reaction, having been involved in a coordinated clean-up that occurred just last April, is WHO does the City/County plan on bringing in to do this work?

Here’s more from the article (but don’t expect answers to my questions):

In a meeting this week, Missoula County said the fence around the newly sanctioned outdoor camp will be finished next week off Clark Fork Lane. Hard-sided shelters ordered by the county also have arrived and will be erected soon in what officials are calling a temporary safe outdoor space.

The bold part of the quote jumped out at me because, when I first read it, I thought this was referencing the fencing that was partially installed in July by MDOT. I realized later, while writing this post, that I was mistaken, but you’ll see why I was confused.

The latter part of the above quote discusses a “temporary safe outdoor space”, but NOT the one off highway 93, because that is now called the TRANSITIONAL Safe Outdoor Space, so I am assuming this is a NEW temporary safe outdoor space being discussed.

I thought the location for this new site was already established at Clark Fork Lane, but Gomer’s own reporting from this same article seems to contradict his earlier claim when, in paragraphs 3 and 4, Kidston writes this:

A location for the temporary safe outdoor space hasn’t been identified as of yet. But once the sanctioned camp site opens, local officials plan to close the Reserve Street camp and begin enforcement of a no-camping policy.

“The shelters have arrived and are stored,” said county CAO Chris Lounsbury. “We’re working with Hope Rescue Mission on the timing to move them (shelters) to the location. We’re also working with the sheriff’s department on using that unused piece of ground.”

So what is the Clark Fork Lane site where the fencing is going to be built? Is that NOT the new transitional safe outdoor space? Is Gomer Kidston’s reporting this confusing and shitty by design?

News articles are supposed to INFORM readers, not leave them more confused about a subject. This is why I’ve repeatedly made the claim that Gomer Kidston does political PR work, NOT objective reporting, as evidenced by Gomer’s previous role as the Montana Democratic party spokesperson, which I referenced in this post about Gomer’s vacuous style.

While I don’t find a lot of quality information in Kidston articles, I do get helpful insights into the plans of our political establishment from his pathetic coverage, like this (emphasis mine):

Engen said the city may look to contract out the cleanup work, and the county has expressed interest in possibly partnering in the effort. Ideally, Engen said, the contractor would be on call for other cleanups as well, including those related to crime scenes.

The Missoula Police Department has expressed interest as well, Engen said.

The bold part of this quote is, in my opinion, the most important part of the article because it offers a curious hint of future law enforcement involvement in the clean-up efforts of a homeless encampment, both by the County (Sheriff’s Department) and the city (Missoula PD).

It’s important to understand that what the County/City pays for, they control, so I have some BIG concerns about what this could mean. Let me give readers a reason why I’m concerned.

I still go out to the Reserve Street camps to talk to people, and a few weeks ago I was speaking with a resident of the camps who told me he had been approached aggressively several times by young men with machetes. One of the men apologized for his behavior the next day because he was drunk.

I, of course, immediately thought of Johnny Lee Perry, the homeless black man who was shot and killed by unnamed Sheriff Deputies on August 29th somewhere along the Southside road between Missoula and Alberton. Johnny was shot because he was allegedly wielding a machete, and the deputies allegedly couldn’t deescalate the situation, so they had to shoot him. Allegedly.

Our Mayor for life, Herr Engen, wants the public to think this is about not doubly traumatizing victims. I think that’s utter bullshit. From the “news” article:

“Victims can be doubly victimized by the fact that their house is now a mess, a crime scene, and a source of continuing trauma,” Engen said. “We want to find a way to establish a cleanup fund and have someone all call for those incidents. That might be a cause for the sheriff’s department as well.”

So, Engen wants to establish a “clean-up fund” in order to contract some agency to be “on call” (doesn’t Gomer have an editor?) for future clean-up/crime-scene needs. Something smells VERY FISHY to me about all this.

The conclusion of the article is kinda hilarious because it features a quote from our County Commissioner, Farmer Josh, about how public they’ve been about when enforcement of this illegal encampment would occur.

“We’ve been pretty public about an expectation of enforcement and when that would begin,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.

And that’s the end of the article.

This week I’ll be visiting the camp and speaking with residents about these plans. If I can get some clarity on the confusion being exacerbated by the shitty reporting of Gomer Kidston, I’ll share what I learn with with RD readers.

So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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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2 Responses to After Years Of Inaction, Missoula City/County Leaders Are Claiming It’s Now Time To Clean Up The Reserve Street Homeless Encampment

  1. TC says:

    I’ll tell you Exactly why the City/County are looking to contract “clean-up”. Forever, Missoula luminaries have wanted to become the Portland of the Rockies (laughingly we once called ourselves the Harvard of the Rockies – that went well). In becoming Portland we have found there is a dark underbelly that goes along with the hip, bohemian, artistic vibe.
    So Missoula (ie Engen, et al) need to control the narrative. With a friendly, incestuous local media it has been easy over the past 16 years to ghost a story that might make investors queasy. A rando murder (or more) at our Flagship, renowned shelter; a dead woman (or ten) found in a culvert/side of road/ in the river; a Government official excused (many times) of lawlessness – all of these have to be reported because they are public record. But then they can quickly be ghosted so no one is ever the wiser.
    Now our Elites see the writing on the wall-KECI was bought by Sinclair and have reported (somewhat) critically about the City/County; the Missoulian/Lee is going to be bought be outside interests that may not align with our Local Government, Gomer will retire soon enough thereby eliminating a de facto PR firm. So the City/County are scared of truth getting out.
    Therefore, if they “contract” they are not beholden to the same level of public record. If some gonzo, citizen journalist asks questions they can just say that info is privileged and cant be released due to legalese (just like how we are never to be told about the water company purchase. We didnt use City attorneys that we already pay for – we “contracted” out).
    Right from the Nei-Lib playbook this is why the US contracted Blackwater instead of just using the military we already pay for. Its just that certain things “need” to be kept off the books.
    Never forget – Engen, Buchanan, Jones, Gomer, et al talk a virtue signaling, hand wringing, Kumbya, wokeness but at their core are Boomer, Neo-Libs to the end

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