by Travis Mateer
Date: April 22nd-April 26th, 2023 Time: 8:30am-6pm; 9am-4pm; 10am-2:30pm plus additional house coordinating Location: 1205 East Broadway, behind Missoula College Business contacts: 2 Government/community contacts: 37 Houseless contacts: 5
Last Thursday, when I decided to bite the bullet and spend nearly $1,000 dollars of my own money to rent a dumpster for a meth den clean-up, I had no idea I would be wrapping up loose ends nearly a week later, which took me on a Wednesday morning quest that led me from a homeless tent, to the City Attorney’s Office, and onward, to a press conference I had no idea about until Jim Nugent suggested I attend.
The video for this project is epic, coming in at just under 35 minutes and covering the span of time from Earth Day to Press Conference. I even used a bunch of footage from the Reserve Street camps from last year to provide some nice imagery to look at while our placeholder Mayor, Jordan Hess, drones on about what cities across the nation CANNOT DO regarding homeless camps.
Here is an example of how municipal/county impotence is articulated by our elected (and selected) leaders (emphasis mine):
City and county officials joined homeless advocates on Wednesday in painting a dire picture of Missoula’s lack of indoor shelter and the growing presence of outdoor encampments in public places.
A recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit placed limitations on the ability of cities to deal with such encampments. As a result, cities cannot criminalize homelessness, nor can they ticket, arrest or remove people from camping in public places unless there are shelter beds available for those individuals.
Ok, so is there anything our hamstrung leaders CAN do? Yes, they can blame the state, which they always do. And they can beg the public to give more money to enablers, like my former employer, the Poverello Center. Again, this is the standard response, and it’s WAY beyond tiring to listen to this shit.
But listen I did, and I even asked a question (which always seems to put some people on edge). My question was about lines of communication with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), since some encampments are within their jurisdiction. Mayor Hess assured me those lines are open, and then had a city attorney, Ryan Sudbury, continue answering my jurisdictional question.
When you look at the quantitative data above, that BIG 37 number includes all the research it took to figure out that Todd Spence’s meth den was (note the past tense!) in DNRC territory, since it was so proximal to the flow of the Clark Fork river.
There is so much fascinating QUALITATIVE data within the numbers I tallied over the last few days, it’s hard to put this project into a coherent linear narrative, so instead I’ll try to make note of some highlights, like the fact I forwarded images of the chemicals we came across to Missoula Police. For a fun peek at meth chemicals, this website is helpful (thanks Oregon!).
One of the guys who helped clean this disaster up on Saturday is himself currently homeless, and it was his positive identification of Todd’s mugshot, which I showed him on my phone, that has me so confident this is, or WAS, Todd Spence’s shanty-shack/meth-den. That, and craftsmanship like this:
Since I was actually at the press conference on Tuesday, I know I heard our Mayor say stuff like HEALTH HAZARDS should still be actionable, but that didn’t seem to be prominent in the local reporting. It was mostly just BOO-HOO from service providers and BOISE DECISION from everyone else. From the link (emphasis mine):
“… They have nowhere else to go,” Hess said Wednesday morning at a press conference outside the Missoula County Courthouse. “The reality is we do not have enough indoor shelter in our community for everybody.”
The collective decision results from Martin v. Boise, a 2018 verdict by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which prohibits the criminalization of homelessness in places where there is insufficient shelter.
“Since we don’t have shelter beds, we cannot remove someone from an encampment in a public space,” Hess added.
Because of the Martin ruling, the Missoula Police Department does not cite people strictly for camping in public spaces, although the police do respond to threats to public health and safety. Instead of ticketing people camped outside, MPD makes contact with individuals sleeping on streets and sidewalks, encouraging them to move frequently and keep their encampments clean, Captain Jake Rosling said.
Ok, so police “respond” to threats to public health and safety. What does that mean? Because Todd’s meth den was the epitome of a public health threat, and the only response that proved effective was MY response, which begs the following question: what would have happened if I HAD NOT ACTED, at great personal cost and no small health risk, to ensure there was at least a chance of addressing this disgusting hazmat situation?
Accolades are great, money to recoup costs would be fantastic, but EVEN BETTER would be a preventative protocol to STOP people like Todd Spence from doing shit like this in the first place, right next to the river that runs through our ZOOMING community.
Or is it our BROKE ASS community? I get really confused, because some restaurants, banks, and art galleries seem to have no problem getting PUBLIC money from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, but when it comes to the blackhole of need being primed by our homeless industrial complex, it’s everyone’s else’s fault for having NO MONEY LEFT. It’s beyond galling to hear these people continually reference a failed crisis mill levy that has yet to hit the funding levels of current services as one of many points of strategic deflection. From one of those links (emphasis mine):
Pehan, who heads the city’s office of Community Planning, Development and Innovation, cited the city’s efforts to get ahead of the problem in recent years. Along with funding for the winter shelter, it also helped fund the Homeless Outreach Team while advocating for other programs.
But the Covid funding is gone and Missoula voters shot down a crisis services levy last November, which would have provided around $5 million annually to fund a number of programs. Without a new source of funding, many programs launched during the pandemic are at risk of ending.
I am so tired of this bullshit. Are we, as a community, going to be held hostage by these petulant tax addicts who can’t achieve their transformative utopia without squeezing every spare penny from taxpayers while complaining all the way to the bank that it’s never enough when evidence of their failure becomes too obvious for the narrative controllers to hide?
The answer to that long question should be a short NO!
If I had just waited around for our elected leaders to act then this obnoxiously sturdy structure…
Wouldn’t now look like this:
I don’t want to speculate on the cost of NOT getting this area cleaned up, but I’ll definitely be stopping by to document how far the water levels rise during spring run-off in order to show what might have happened if the stuff hadn’t been scooped, bagged and hauled off.
The video of this clean-up will be done uploading later today, so I’ll post it when it’s ready. Stay tuned. And if you want to support my work, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to do that, using the donation button at my about page is another.
Thanks for reading!