A Little Peek Into How Missoula Enables And Punishes Homeless People

by Travis Mateer

In lieu of a new episode of my temporarily back-burnered podcast, Zoom Chron, I want to update readers/listeners on two homeless individuals I interviewed over the past year.

First up is Glen Harley Stephens, one of the last old-timers I remember trying to manage during the old Poverello days.

I hadn’t seen Harley in months, but he popped up a few weeks ago like an ornery spring flower. I chatted with him last weekend and found out he had been staying at the Poverello Center, post surgery, in one of their medical respite rooms.

Harley proudly displayed to me his previous night’s earnings, well over a hundred bucks. He also told me that, thanks to a disability check he doesn’t use, he’s got over $20,000 in the bank. Yes, Harley might be using a walker now, and his grizzly meat hands are covered in fresh wounds and old scabs, but, overall, he’s doing pretty damn good.

To highlight the peripheral impact of Harley, I stopped in the tattoo shop on Higgins the next day to see how they’re managing. I spoke with the proprietor and he said Harley himself isn’t too problematic, but since he’s such an effective panhandler, he tends to be a popular figure on the streets. Stated more plainly: Harley funds the party.

This was a little frustrating, I was told, when a parade was going on last weekend, with plenty of kids around, and there’s Harley helping half the street people get fucked up on vodka. Good times. Harley also told me a little story about being dropped off at the Johnson Street shelter by a cop and how much fun he had partying over there for weeks.

The other homeless individual I interviewed, Geoff Roach, is a long-time Missoula resident with fascinating tales of a Missoula that no longer exists, especially the version of the Wilma Geoff worked at under the eccentric owner, Edward Sharpe.

Knowing how long Geoff has lived in this town makes it that much more maddening and offensive what’s happening to him, which, in my estimation, is tantamount to punishment.

And why is he being punished? Because his alcoholism and medical issue makes him not very mobile and very incontinent.

I saw this first hand before getting Geoff into my studio for the interview. He peed right near an entrance to the courthouse, causing a PRIVATE security officer to come out and call the real cops.

According to Geoff’s account of his time since the interview, he was given the proverbial boot from the Transitional Save Outdoor Space (TSOS–pronounced T-SAUCE) because he kept smoking cigarettes INSIDE one of the nice, new tents, and that was a bad enough transgression to earn Geoff a downgrade to the Johnson Street shelter, probably around the same time Harley was funding the party.

I asked Geoff if he was back on the street because Johnson Street closed, and he said no, he got kicked out BEFORE it closed because of that incontinent issues I mentioned earlier. So I guess you can be high on meth at the “low-barrier” shelter, but peeing on the floor will get you and your walker evicted.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into how Missoula enables and punishes homeless people. I have a feeling, with the weather getting warmer, that things are going to get quite active as move toward summer.

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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