Same Old Shit, Homeless Harley Edition

by Travis Mateer

To have a cop chase you down because he wants to speak with you is not an unusual experience to have, but, when it happened to me earlier this week, it was because of my relationship with homeless Harley.

The police officer had just concluded his speech to Harley that the alcove outside the Blaque Owl tattoo shop wasn’t his home, and I had just concluded giving his fellow officer my business card and a brief condolence that after 5 years of relative peace downtown, Harley was out of prison and back to confounding first responders with his stubborn presence.

When the officer caught up to me he asked how I knew Harley, so I gave him the rundown, from my perspective, and he seemed genuinely appreciative. He was working on the caseworker angle, and I gave him a name of someone who worked with Harley in the past.

These were the exact kind of interactions I used to have with law enforcement back when I was the Homeless Outreach Coordinator for the Poverello Center.

Have I mentioned recently that 2022 is the TENTH year of the TEN year plan to END homelessness?

To keep my nostalgia going, I entered the fancy wine shop next to the tattoo shop to chat up the proprietor of the establishment about what she had glanced at while she was setting out her store’s street sign for the day.

I heard the same old story. She feels bad for the homeless man, but also has to run a business, and she is reluctant to call 911 because she feels like that isn’t the right thing to do.

I told her how a stubborn bastard like Harley still monkey-wrenches the service-provider system, despite the expansion of the homeless industrial complex.

Did I tell her about the documentary? Of course, but mostly because I wanted to explain that the mobile billboard system I’ve created–which I’ll be rolling out tomorrow for First Friday–isn’t another manifestation of mental instability + meth, but in fact a piece of guerrilla marketing performance art.

For that, and so much more, stay tuned.

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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11 Responses to Same Old Shit, Homeless Harley Edition

  1. TC says:

    You apparently used to work with the Homeless. You were an outreach specialist that met problems exactly where they existed in real time. Since, you have closely observed Missoula’s efforts to curtail homelessness and been able to measure the effectiveness of the grand 10 year plan.
    I would proffer that the plan has been a complete failure – that homelessness is worse than ever in our community. I believe this is in large part to bleeding heart enabling. No one is ever wrong, cant be held responsible or accountable, all homeless lack agency and must be viewed as helpless toddlers. That would be all fine and good – let the hand wringers do them. However, it costs me more and more money every year via taxes. Money spent to grease the wheels of the Homeless Industrial Complex ™. Just look at how you can advance your career via that system – hell the mayor will create a position whole cloth, wont advertise per public hiring laws, and hand select you.
    So given all that Id ld value you truest input. You are smarter than me and have more direct experience in the real world. Id see someone like Harley as a piece of shit that has no inherent worth to society at this point. I know that is wrong think (please dont ascribe a phobe – im actually not afraid of anything). Given this wrong think Id ask you to give a workable solution. What do we do with the Harleys of Missoula and how do we stay empathetic to their plight?
    Thanks for input

    • I’ll start with a big picture perspective: we have too many stupid laws that can’t be equally enforced because of people who don’t respond to normal deterrents, like Harley. You or I would get a ticket for littering and would be compelled to pay it so our credit doesn’t get fucked and we don’t get a bench warrant for failure to appear for court, but Harley doesn’t give a shit about any of that.

      What SHOULD happen to Harley is he should be given some options for treatments/services (carrot) and if he refuses, arrest the fucker (stick). But the services to address Harley’s issues don’t really exist, and jailing him just costs the taxpayer money, so, 10 years into that 10 year plan to end homelessness, we are still in a situation where Harley is lucky to have someone like me at 2am who can get him napkins to wipe his ass after he takes an emergency shit near a downtown business.

      • Travis,

        TC asked you to provide a workable solution and I will say that you proposed a solution, but it is not workable. Basically, your carrot/stick says to those like Harley, “Either you do what you should to improve yourself or we will hurt you.” This is really nothing more than legislating and enforcing morality and will work just as well. Or badly, depending on your viewpoint.

        The saving grace in this is that you recognize that your “solution” will not produce positive results and that something else is needed which can only come from individual people, like yourself, who understand Harley’s REAL needs and do something to fill those needs. Ass wipers, in other words, given to him out of a sense of compassion without expecting anything from him.

        Harley’s problems are not based in legality and cannot be solved legally, hence, the carrot/stick failure. Rather his troubles are spiritual in nature and nothing about him will change until he addresses his spiritual deficits and corrects them. He needs to admit his own faults. He must desire to overcome them. He has to start taking positive action to do what needs to be done regardless of how much it hurts or costs. Unless he is willing and committed to do these things, he will stay exactly where he is right now. And the society around him will be left scratching its collective head, wondering how to resolve the problem.

        Harley has probably already seen the programme (carrot) and rejected it. He has probably seen jail time (stick) and survived it. He probably has no fear of punishment for non-compliance and, as such, is free to live as he chooses. Society, in general, hates people like Harley because he represents a deviation from the norm which collectivism of all stripes simply cannot tolerate. Therefore, he will be ostracized, marginalized, beaten up, beaten down, criminalized, punished, and condemned–not because of what he has done, but simply because of who he is.

        For outsiders, there is only one workable solution to Harley’s situation–love, pure unadulterated love for him in spite of what he appears to be. He will remember that you gave him napkins to wipe his ass and always be grateful that you did so. Even if you never see anything more than that, that is enough.

        I salute you, sir! Continue, please.

        • “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion”
          —Albert Camus

          Perhaps Harley has reached this.

  2. Empathy doesn’t require training. Either you have it, or you don’t. That’s a bit over-simplistic, and a lot of money is spent on such things as teaching imprisoned rapists to empathize with their victims, and while there is some success, empathy is a trait of personality that is he really either fostered during the early development of a human personality, or never does.

    I think it over-simplistic to view the “Harley archetype problem” in such black & white terms. There is a reason for every person’s condition, circumstances and situation. I certainly agree (that for reasons similar to those that deprive some people of empathy) some persons will not change their life’s modus operandi. Whether, and how much, humanitarian assistance is provided to such persons is a function of empathy and morality. The same with regard to how we hold them accountable for certain conduct (specific actions) vs. behavior (life habits). In my view, Travis has a realistic and appropriately empathetic perspective, one honed by experience. If some unhoused individuals are, arguendo, to be viewed as “toddler-like,” then perhaps the question is “how do we treat toddlers?” The answer is that we feed them, treat their illnesses, protect them from themselves and others, attempt to modify certain conduct through positive and negative sanctions, seek to influence behavior through social norms, peer pressure, penalties and rewards. A truly divided society does not seem some persons to be refuse unworthy of life. Like the prison complex, the homeless industrial complex seeks to “rehabilitate,” warehouse and/or exploit for gain and profit, those among the very wide spectrum of people within the category “homeless.” The manner in which we deal with both law transgressors and unhoused people is a function of the Puritan Genesis of this nation, its industrial and agricultural history of physical and wage slavery, and marginalization of non-WASPs. No, I am not saying that all white people and entrepreneurs are evil and so on; I’m saying that in a figurative sense our society, and in a literal sense ourselves, carry forward that paradigm in our societal and individual DNA, whatever our stations. To say that we nonetheless have freedom of choice is to have a blind eye to the truth that the range of rational choices some are able to make, is very limited. Whereas Travis has his extensive experience with homeless outreach, I have extensive experience with persons who committed, or were accused of committing, heinous homicidal crimes. I know enough about each of those cohorts to understand that they substantially overlap. And as for minor crime and a significant segment of unhoused persons, the causes are economic, which is to say social and political.

    In the ‘criminal justice system,’ some persons are categorized as subhuman and unfit to live among both “free” and imprisoned society. These persons are put to death. The same occurs with respect to some among our unhoused. The systemic approaches we utilize as to both, cost more money than simply housing both.

    • I hate that I can’t edit my com.ents. I trust that most of my ‘typos’ (some a function of my smartphone’s so-called AI) are readily seen as such a d read accordingly. One that may evade such treatment is the phrase “truly divided society;” this SHOULD read “truly civilized society.”

  3. TC says:

    Mr Mitchell and Mr Hunt made compelling cases. My take-away was that they collectively believe that LOVE and/or EMPATHY could solve a situation like Harley.
    I understand where they are coming from and appreciate their hearts. However, I couldnt disagree more. I believe what they espoused is so much 1960’s Flower Power/Kumbaya/idealistic bullshits. That might have sold in 1965 Berkeley but by 1995 it was proved bullshit as every one of those Boomers gave up their morals for cash. Once they were rich they went back to virtue signaling about “how to make the world better” (see Clintons)
    Here’s the deal – love is not a choice. It is a human emotion like hate, fear, anger and happiness. It happens as a response to an outside stimuli. I love my family – i dont control that. It just is. I dont even like many of them but I love them because they are of my blood. I actually “hate” people that have wronged my kin – even if they are great people. At my base I am an animal and have these biological emotional reactions. To think I can control my base instincts – thats narcissistic
    Per empathy – thats also a 60’s made up construct. This idea that we are supposed to “feel” someone else’s experience can only come out of San Fransisco. My grandfathers had no empathy for the Nazis they put bullets into – they could give two shits that they created a widow or orphans. My father gave two shits when he killed a ‘Nam. Both my granddad and dad had “Sympathy” however when a child, calf, or dog died because we suffered similarly. But we didnt waste time trying to “empathize” about someone or something we had nothing to do with.
    So now we are back to Harley. Mr Mitchell thinks he needs love, Mr Hunt thinks he needs empathy, Mr. Mateer thinks he needs both of those plus extra hand outs. I believe he is a grown ass man that has agency. If he chooses to live the life he has chosen Im all about it. That said – I think he is a piece of shit that deserves neither love, empathy or any hand-outs.
    Probably the truth and the answer is somewhere in between.

    • Harley’s own personal situation may never be solved. He may die without ever seeing any improvement in his life. That possibility does not relieve any of us from doing what we can to help him, to alleviate his suffering while here, even if it is nothing more than handing him a fistful of napkins so he can wipe his ass.

      The action cited by Travis Mateer was completely voluntary on his part. No one compelled him to do this. It was his choice to do so. He could also have chosen to simply walk on and do nothing, which many people would have done, drawing their skirts aside as they passed by so as not to get them dirty. For comparison, read the story of the Good Samaritan as written in Luke, chapter 10.

      “Here’s the deal – love is not a choice. It is a human emotion like hate, fear, anger and happiness. It happens as a response to an outside stimuli. I love my family – i dont control that. It just is.”

      To say that love only happens in response to an outside stimulus is to say that someone else has the power to cause you to love, just as they have the power to make you afraid, to be angry, or to be happy. Love happens because of circumstance, because someone or something made you “feel” good. In other words, it is fickle. An incident. An accident.

      This is absolutely wrong. Love is not an emotion, it is a choice. We can make a conscious decision to love someone, no matter who they are nor what they have done. TC says he loves his family even though he does not like many of them. This is contradictory to his claim that love is not a choice. One emotion (love, like) does not cancel out another (hate, dislike) unless it is deliberately chosen and lived out. He could have as easily said that he hates his family even though he likes many of them, which is just as contradictory. In actuality, he DOES control his love for his family, whether he wants to admit it or not, just the same as he “hates” people who have wronged his family.

      Unlike TC, I am not an animal with no control over my base instincts. I am a human being with flaws AND I can overcome those flaws as I choose to by making conscious decisions to abandon the bad in favor of the good. So also could Harley if he chose to. As could TC, if he was not in thrall to his emotions, feelings, and unwillingness to own up to his own responsibility.

      Yes, Harley is a man with agency and accountability. Yes, if he chooses to live the life he does, then I will grant him the freedom to do so. No, he is not a pile of shit. Yes, if I can, I will help him or anyone else like him. If, for no other reason, he deserves to be loved because he is a child of God, as all of us are, including those who do not wish to.

      Love, empathy, and compassion cannot be forced. They come from the heart. They were not invented in the 1960’s by the flower children and the hippy culture. They were not discarded when Bill Clinton ascended to The Throne. They have been part of creation from the very beginning and they will endure beyond the end.

  4. TC says:

    I should give my CV/Bona Fides. Travis often references his 7!yrs working with the homeless and 10 yrs within the Non Profit world. I so appreciate his service. Our world would better being people by Travis ilk.
    However, I existed for 25 yrs in the same bubble. Everyone Travis references I also saw. Sober (rarely), inebriated (mostly), sometimes conscious, most time unconscious, and sometimes dead (even though brought a couple back from death). I dug people (obviously dead) out of rivers, out of ditches and out of snow. I tried to revive an infant (more than once) that was smothered by a drugged out parent. And I have 10,000 other stories about Missoulians.
    So – given that background – i come from a place of truth. I understand love/empathy. I also understand that Harley and “A” are pieces of shit that (at this point) warrant none.
    But thats just one guy’s opinion

  5. A little more context on Harley: a car hit him in East Missoula, which is what disabled him. Before that he had a timber job. An infamous street drunk by the name of Cock-Eyed Joe consoled Harley with vodka as he came out from his disability hearing in the County Courthouse.

    Harley clarified why he was last in prison to me recently. Another well-known homeless man who went by “Mud Duck” supposedly came up behind Harley while he was taking a shit under the Reserve Street bridge and, not recognizing him, Mud Duck tried hitting him on the head with something, so Harley stabbed him several times, nearly hitting a major artery and killing him.

    In prison, Harley would often be asked by other inmates to draw pictures for them to send to their girlfriends because he’s got pretty good drawing skills when not wasted.

    I appreciate the conversation here from all perspectives, but ultimately there is nothing compassionate about the individual enabling and systemic befuddlement that continues to confound everyone as the condo towers get built.

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