AA#7-The Meth Den Clean-Up That Synchronistically Culminated With A Press Conference On Homeless Camps

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!

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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14 Responses to AA#7-The Meth Den Clean-Up That Synchronistically Culminated With A Press Conference On Homeless Camps

  1. Greg Strandberg says:

    First of all, let me say I think your blog and writing and reporting has improved substantially. You’re filling the cracks that traditional media in this town is ignoring.

    That said…can you afford $1,000 out of your own pocket? I notice your TIFF fund is up to $750 now, so I suppose that helps. But I worry about you. I mean…is this sustainable, for you to spend so much on cleanup and then these trips to Helena and places like Clinton. You must be spending a lot on just gas alone!

    Are you independently wealthy? Are you getting a stipend from your parents each month? Do you get alimony? Did you and your ex sell the house and now you have bank?

    I’m sorry these are personal questions and you in no way have to answer. I just wonder and worry about your financial position and I’m sure I’m not alone. Because as far as I know, you haven’t been working since you quit the healthcare/senior-related job years ago.

    I really wish you would consider a job with the city/county or a nonprofit so you can get paid for doing things like this.

    Because, really…is this your job to do…spending a lot of time and money on these issues? They’re important, but no one else seems to care. As you mention, it’s a much higher priority for the city to give, say, a Mexican restaurant money for their building than use tax funds to make the city clean and safe by coming up with a solution for homeless camps.

    You’re putting in a great deal of effort but I’m not sure how much you’re getting out of it. Are things changing? Will they change? Can they? Don’t get burned-out and please don’t burn through whatever savings you have.

    • Sure, I’ll answer some of these deeply personal questions. I have self-financed the production of my content since leaving my last regularly paying job right before the pandemic kicked off. Choices I’ve made with money is one of the big reasons my marriage failed. Can I afford to drop a thousand bucks on a dumpster? Not really, but I have faith what I’m doing is an investment in something bigger. Thanks for the concern.

    • Concerned Citizen says:

      Mr. Strandberg, with all due respect, if you are so concerned about it, you should contribute to the cause and encourage your friends to do the same. I agree with you that great coverage is done here, and it’s content you won’t find anywhere else. Support a fellow writer and local journalist.

  2. TC says:

    The Boise decision is such bullshit! It represents (like all court decisions) a particular place, time and context. However, it stands because it allows a City/County cover. They can claim their hands are tied, they cannot enforce community standards, etc. In reality, it allows for the divergence of funds away from enforcement (by whatever means LE, Rehab, mental health) to pet projects like bike paths and ski hills.
    Boise was decided by the decidedly liberal virtue signaling 9th Circuit. If Boise (or any other City/Community) had balls they could appeal. Were this case to be decided by the Supreme Court (especially with the current make -up) the decision would be much different. Cities could return to community standards. However, our liberal West would rather pass blame while still feeling good about themselves. There is a reason its Boise V. and not Houston or Tallahassee V.

    • JC says:

      TC, the issue really isn’t about the Boise decision. Even without the Boise decision what would the City/County do? They don’t have the resources to handle the level of homelessness and crime that exists. What would they do without Boise? Put more people in jail? The jail is full, and it’s a revolving door there trying to make room for violent offenders awaiting trial who can’t post bail, and those sentenced to shorter terms who they can’t/won’t ship off to the State. Sure, Missoula could build a new jail, but that $25-50+ million dollar project also could go to other purposes, like needed services for jail diversion programs like mental health and addiction treatment services, and social services to hook people up with educational/vocational opportunities. Not to mention true low/no income housing instead of the phony “affordable” or “work force” housing that just caters to those who already are doing well enough to fend for themselves, or go back to where they came from.

      Travis’ point here is simple, if buried under the complexity of TIF. TIF has diverted needed tax dollars from the General Fund to a boutique and bourgeois (and quite large) fund spent by unelected and self interested well-to-do folks. As the TIF-funded projects gentrify the community, it becomes harder for marginal populations (poor, mentally ill, disabled, etc.) to survive in cheap housing, so they become dispossessed, and slip through the cracks. And live on the fringes like those Travis reports on.

      Yet with tax moneys diverted to purposes that don’t provide needed services (and “workforce housing” doesn’t count) to this demographic, and city/county unable to backfill the needed money from either current budgets, referendums, or federal money, they’ve backed themselves into a corner. So it’s always blaming someone/something else. And nobody is willing to address the elephants in the room (once so ably filled by Engen): TIF; gentrification; a drive by the glam crowd (advertised by Costner, et al.) to move here; a State Legislature/Governor hellbent on abusing Missoula for being “liberal” and trying to open the state to outside interests through de-regulation and strangling services; and the fallout from the pandemic’s outcome of driving a huge shift to a work-from-home (where the home becomes Montana) migration of people making far more than the median income–again driving up housing costs.

      Yeah, we could get rid of Boise and move to criminalize homelessness and mental illness, and create a huge economic boom in the incarceration business. Or we could reform TIF (or get rid of it altogether) and slow down Missoula’s rampant and destructive growth (making Missoula less “vibrant” and attractive to those considering moving here), and invest in services that actually provide for a healthy and thriving community. All those trendy telecommuters and trust funder coastal escapists can just go back to living in Portland, Boise, Seattle and San Francisco, where they belong.

      Or we can continue to watch the destruction of a once livable “last best place” become an unlivable “next worse place”.

  3. TC says:

    JC – we agree on so many points. I think if you re-read my screed you will see that.
    Yes – lets get rid of TIF!
    But if you think we should hand out “”low/no income housing” to anyone not held accountable then we will agree to disagree. I give shit tons of my limited time and money to those in need but if you ask me to give a red cent to those Travis displayed (as does KGVO) well then Sir you can fuck right off.
    As for the resource issue; you played right into the City/County bullshit. The resources exist – they are just diverted to cronies under the cover of the Boise decision. So if thats your belief – again – Sir you can fuck right off. Make sure you wring your hands while your Boomer heart bleed upon them

  4. BluezCluez says:

    It has been a while since I looked, but I was getting irritated with how quickly people were to cash in on abatement. The cost of each clean up of a tribal hud house, was invoking acts of testing a wall before people moved in and testing when they would move out. Basically giving excuse to charge ridiculous amounts of money against a renter who under house inspection could be booted for a positive test.

    Heck let’s get truthful here, there was a grandmother getting booted from low income housing because their son or grandson got arrested for drugs in Missoula. There didn’t even need to be a drug conviction. And why wait right?

    The truth of meth abatement is this. When looking at the EPA website for how to deal with meth. Their recommendation was and this, where METH WAS MANUFACTURED. Every surface needed to be washed with soapy water and repainted and the only other remediation recommended was for water and sewer, and that was for where it was manufactured. There was nothing for homes where meth was used, So people treated users like they were manufacturing.

    The cost of the most expensive test, ran into the thousands, and if your house tested positive, you paid for the test and “remediation”. I am not saying there isn’t any concern to exposure. But considering there was very little that didn’t trigger a positive from the most expensive test, including cigarette smoke. One has to wonder and I even heard that the positives were known to be false. Then I look at company’s that remediated and considering Billings is the largest city. Missoula had the most companies listed under remediation.

    Now imagine that if you have kids. Pretty soon they are coming after your kids. Sending CPS to take your kids. Which becomes the defining moment, because of how people treated you because of meth.

    The fact that Tribal housing was seeing the epidemic not only in remediation, the need for emergency housing for those same people was dumped on to a program that inflicted even more scrutiny by having a curfew, allowed for random searches, and any of those not followed would immediately get you kicked out. Even if what they found was marijuana based, this was even when the state had passed medical marijuana use. That was not what the tribes followed. (Essentially allowing its members to get charged for such things, when it wasn’t illegal else were in the state,

    So the reason why it drug out like it did for you, is because no one wants to treat the issue, and not be able to “cash in” on what you did.

    EPA standards may have changed, I haven’t checked, basically the issue has went from bad to worse and at this point to levy all of that against todays issue, people are tired of seeing people on meth. Which is sad, many were addicted to opioids and now since doctors who helped create that problem, left very few options for people to get off opioids. Which I will tell you is no skip in the park, even if your doctor weans you off. The reality is, most people likely got hooked on meth, and also started doing heroine and now phentanyl.

    If you want to know how does any of it continue to happen, look at where most of it comes from, it also happened to be the #2 human trafficking City on the west coast, and has a long history of white supremacists, and militias. Which for a lot of people once I say Portland Oregon, you can see the realization come over their face. The rest is sitting in front of you, honestly, including possibly the random caller who reported the incident regarding “Rebekah Barsotti”, I could be wrong, but I found that little point quite interesting.

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  7. I finally have a number on this clean-up, and it’s BIG. Post with the number coming Wednesday.

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