Can Missoula Balance Public Safety Without Triggering The Charge Of Criminalizing Homelessness?

by Travis Mateer

First, let me say I appreciate Daniel Carlino’s continued dedication to his principles, but on this issue I do not agree with the characterization of the balance being sought in public parks as school kids are on the verge of summer break and the conflicts are already happening, like they did in one park last summer near the Youth Homes site by the Blue Mountain Clinic on West Broadway.

Here is the park where one urban camper was jumped by five others, then, later that same day, a fire broke out in the park. Also, someone shot arrows near the Youth Home building, which did get the guy a weapons charge. I’m not sure if anyone was charged when a man hit another man in the face with a baseball bat, something the kids actually saw happen.

When a public location like this has had this kind of violence, it doesn’t matter if the most recent urban campers are keeping a clean camp or not. I would assume the presence of ANY tents is probably not appreciated by the staff and kids (ages 14-18) who have to work and live there. And by my count, there are currently four tents as I pan just slightly to the right:

Here’s the comment so you can hear for yourself the scenarios described:

If you follow the “weapons charge” link above, you will read about a VERY concerning individual who is well known to many providers and, I’m assuming, law enforcement. Here’s what he looks like:

Another comment came from a community woman with a story about running across someone openly masturbating near the Nature Center. Here’s the comment:

Now, to try and balance my own reporting (although I do not claim to be objective), let’s take a look at the Missoulian’s coverage, since portraying anyone without homes as victims is a theme they are good at duplicating over and over again. Will this coverage jive with the sentiment expressed by Carlino that we, as a community, just criminalized being homeless in public parks? (emphasis mine):

Gibson and Small-Ray readily acknowledge that they’re living unsheltered mainly due to battles with addiction and substance abuse. But, they say, there’s not really any other options besides camping in public parks.

“I don’t blame the city for thinking that way,” Small-Ray said, when asked how he would feel if he were camping in a public park and asked to move. “But it would kind of feel like the community has let us down.”

“Like they’re against us,” Gibson agreed. “Yes, we’re homeless, but we’re part of the community, too.”

Small-Ray said that if camps in public parks are removed, more people will just camp farther out of the inner core of the city, maybe along the Kim Williams Trail.

“Some people will go along with it, but some people are gonna stand their ground,” Small-Ray said. “And that will give everyone (who’s camping) a bad name in the community.”

As it happens, I spoke with these campers as well. The young Native on the left is the son of an infamous street couple I knew well, but they’re no longer around. He told me yesterday about some creep approaching their camp recently trying to solicit women for sex. I asked if the guy was a white dude, and he said no, darker skin and an accent. Interesting.

I took a few pictures of trash and graffiti in this area. One picture especially got my interest, for a very disturbing reason. First, here’s some of what I observed yesterday while biking around:

This last picture has the word PANDA with a heart. Why do I find this disturbing? Because “Panda eyes” is supposedly some screwed up slang that you can look up yourself if you want, I’m not going to facilitate it with a link.

Now, before getting to MY public comment, leave it to Martin Kidston to make sure HIS readers are aware of Carlino’s comments regarding the ACLU (emphasis mine):

Advocates of the ordinance change said it’s not perfect, but most described it as a necessary step to protect the public. The measure passed committee on an 8-1 vote, with council member Daniel Carlino standing alone in opposition.

He also tried to add an amendment, which also failed on a 9-1 vote.

“This is absolutely not a solution,” he said. “I guess I’ll reach out to the ACLU and other groups who are ready to sue over things like this. You’re just trying to move someone from one space to another space. It’s not going to make our community safer. I’m very disappointed in this council.”

If adopted next month, the ordinance would take effect immediately and stay in effect for 90 days.

Now, my comments were geared toward safety and information, meaning if we had more information about who is camping, that could help with public safety. I’ll get more into the specifics in a later post. For now, you can listen to what I said below (with an appropriate tone, I hope):

I like the look on Mike and Daniel’s faces! And here’s comment two:

On Twitter I noticed the urban camping issue has caught the attention of our LET HER SPEAK Representative, who predictably regurgitates Housing First talking points while hoping Federal money can save us:

If you appreciate the work I’m doing, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to support me, and the donation button at my about page is another. Stay tuned, this conversation is far from over.

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 Can Missoula Balance Public Safety Without Triggering The Charge Of Criminalizing Homelessness?

  1. TC says:

    Serious question – I really dont know. Are you aware of the “Housing First” model working anywhere? If it has, was that success long term and widespread or was it temporary and limited in scope? Im unaware of why this became “best practice”.
    Here in Missoula it seems that when housing was provided with no skin in the game by the housed it was a short term fix before cycle of homeless, addiction,etc started anew.
    I ask because it seems Missoula has gone all in on this as the solution to this crisis. If it was the solution it seems like there would be a myriad of feel good stories from Spokane, Seattle, Portland,etc. Since there isnt Housing First seems like something dreamed up by a committee of Social workers sitting in committee rather than, you know, actually having boots on the ground.
    School me up – thanks

    • I’m not familiar with the institute, but I still suggest checking this link out about the rhetoric vs. the reality when it comes to housing first:

      • JC says:

        Travis, against my better instinct I clicked on the link. So, of course the first thing I always do when looking at a new think tank, is to do some research. And at the top of the Wikipedia entry for the Manhattan Institute, which is the author of the Housing First critique, we discover that the MI was set up in 1978 by William Casey, the man who would become Ronald Reagan’s CIA director.

        The MI also became involved in (domestic) counter terrorism efforts after 9/11, and advised Bush on many of his policies. They are an unabashed voice for free market capitalism. And they hold a lot of policy ideas that serve to enrich the powers that be by foisting off huge subsidies (student loan reform, wage subsidies, health care privitization, etc.) to major corporations in the guise of social policy. There’s much more, but that’s enough red lights for me to be highly skeptical of their work.

        So against that backdrop, I chose to not read the study yet as I knew it was going to be chock full of libertarian and right wing, free market ideology that has no bearing on how to solve the problems of homelessness. And it would just piss me off. So I decided to listen to Gabor Maté again, instead.

        And as I’ve heard from some of the commentators here that they “know” people with addictions and who have experienced homelessness (I take this synonymously to those who claim they can’t be racist because they have a black friend), I have to say that unless you have experienced being a homeless addict yourself, you really don’t understand the condition, how it comes to be, and what it takes to recover from it. Nor will you understand a lot of the work currently underway in western Montana to build new addiction and mental health treatment facilities and transitional living facilities, and that are utilizing some of the housing first policy ideas, but also using a private investment model (not a nonprofit) to open new (or repurpose old) facilities.

        To those who espouse free market policies like the Manhattan Institute’s, I would like them to listen to the counterpoint from a professional who has worked in this field his whole life, Gabor Maté. If you listen to this 30 minute talk of his, and reflect on it a bit, I’ll read the Manhattan Institute’s piece, and maybe we can have an honest debate.

        Maté postulates that addiction, and homelessness by extension, is a social (not individual) problem born out of our capitalist system. And that if were to acknowledge that, then it would become incumbent upon us as a society to find ways to: 1) quit traumatizing children, which is the leading driver of addiction (and homelessness) later in life; 2) move towards a more equitable society (definitely not born out of free market fundamentalism); and 3) offer solutions that recognize the humanity of the dispossessed and how they came to be.

        Capitalism Makes us Crazy: Dr Gabor Maté on Illness & Addiction

    • Mrs Stitch says:

      It’s not working in Seattle, going by the subreddits there. Freaking disaster area. But Missoula city council will be the last to know.

      Portland mayor is trying to ban camping between 8 am and 8 pm so at least everyone has to move tent before making too much of a mess. Wonder how that’ll work out.

      • J. Kevin Hunt says:

        Makes more sense than what the Conucil voted 8-1 amd 8-2 to do yesterday: ban camping during night hours unless it’s on a designated Primary Urban Trail. For some reason, the ony two in the chambers who understood this were Councilor and me.

        • Sorry for the typos…. I’l try again:

          Makes more sense than what the Conucil voted 8-1 and 8-2 to do yesterday: ban camping during night hours, only… unless it’s on a designated Primary Urban Trail!! For some reason, the only two in the chambers who understood this were Councilor Carlino, and me.

    • John Kevin Hunt says:

      Typically, a person who wants to attain stable housing will not be able to do so successfully without having a safe place to sleep & store personal effects, to interace with outreach workers, etc. I challenge both you and Travis to show me an approach that works better for those who wish to attain stable housing. I presume that your opinions are informed by your own personal experiences being homeless. If not, I still respect Travis’s extensive experience as a homeless outreach person and as a gonzo reporter. But I think he’s now beginning to swing past a reasonable position, to one of authoritarianism in which all persons who are stationary will be questioned by authorities about their purpose in existing in that location, who their relatives are, etc. And I was particularly disappointed to hear Travis tell the Council that he has changed his position regarding private cop companies.

      Travis is right, however, and I think is starting to be effective, in advocating for a more versatile approach that deals with violent, dangerous, mentally ill and behaviorally maladapted addicts differently than those unsheltered persons without such issues.

      But on the other hand, I think it’s a more dreamland-ish belief than is a general housing first approach, to assume that there are available resources funded to do that. I also think it’s ridiculous to demonize drug addicts. Show me where THAT has worked? They execute people in Indonesia, Bali and Saudi Arabia for small amounts of drugs including cannabis. That they are still doing this after several decades doesn’t support the notion that ritualiatic persecution of drug users and addicts is effective (setting aside that it’s fundamentally cruel).

      By definition, an addict does not have the ability to simply stop ingesting. That’s why, in Robinson v.Califoria, the Supreme Court held it unconstitutional to criminalize the status of being an addict.

      In Britain, they passed a law allowing heroin addicts to register as such, whereupon they could receive a daily fix of unadultrated heroin in a medical clinic. Overwhelmingly, registrants were able to resume employment, return to their families, and re-enter society as productive citizens.

      Until America discards its puritan prejudices and adopts a realistic response to addiction, mental illness and unfettered capitalism, it will NEVER successfully deal with the tragedy of involuntary houselessness.

      • I understand addiction and would not wish that on anyone. I have dealt with the scourge of mental illness in close members of my family for years and know from experience how traumatic it is.

        But what do you mean by unfettered capitalism and why is that linked with the previously mentioned diseases? Capitalism is a socio-economic system. So are fascism, communism, and many other means in which society is ordered and either prospers or fails.

        By “unfettered” do you mean free-market or as it is called by another name, anarcho-capitalism? Actually, there has never been a truly “free” market, since there have always been governments which excelled in regulating and controlling them.
        Strictly speaking, you should be referring to the system we live and operate in a controlled capitalism, that is, controlled so that the richest of the rich get richer and everyone else becomes relatively less wealthy.

        What we have today is reminiscent of Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, in which all the animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

        I will throw the same challenge at you that you hit TC and Travis with. Show us a better system. I have to tell you, however, that every socio-economic system which can be thought up has been tried throughout history, except one–anarcho-capitalism, which is a free market without fetters.

        Are you up for the challenge? Or not?

  2. John Kevin Hunt says:

    Most of what I have to say is reflected in my reply to TC. But I’m curious about this remark in your post, which I wonder if you’d care to explain:

    “He told me yesterday about some creep approaching their camp recently trying to solicit women for sex. I asked if the guy was a white dude, and he said no, darker skin and an accent. Interesting.”

  3. ET says:

    I copied the paragraph below from a wall street journal article…
    In 2013 downtown Missoula and the Mayors advisory council were hard at work separating the wheat from the chaff in downtown, via the 10yr plan-

    “It may be hard to believe looking at the current state of major American cities, but 2023 was supposed to be the year that all types of homelessness would be eradicated. That’s what the Obama administration promised when in 2013 the Department of Housing and Urban Development formally changed the federal government’s homelessness policy to “housing first,” under which homeless people receive federally funded housing vouchers with no strings attached. Things haven’t panned out as the administration planned.”

    It was one of the big pools of HUD money.

    Another interesting thing, if you go further back, the original winter shelter contingency efforts in Missoula, were formed under the umbrella of Missoula County’s at risk housing coalition and were part of the bush administrations requirements for coordinated community plans required for HUD money.

    Before Lizard worked for the POV Missoula County staff oversaw most of the HUD related administration in the area. There was a major effort by Ellie and the Mayor to take over, around the same time as the 10yr plan.

    • “…when in 2013 the Department of Housing and Urban Development formally changed the federal government’s homelessness policy to “housing first,” under which homeless people receive federally funded housing vouchers with no strings attached.”

      It is a well-known supposition that when you subsidize any sort of behavior, any sort, you get more of it. Now, if homeless people are getting vouchers for free with no strings (conditions, rules, etc.), then why in the world would they improve their lifestyle which, in doing so, would dry up the federal vouchers?

  4. Kevin, I’ll respond as best I can down here to your multiple comments. First, you are correct, I am not understanding the technical part of this conversation at all, so that’s obviously a good reason to extend the conversation so what’s actually being developed, with regard to this policy, can be better understood. Also, I’m not all that comfortable with my own position, but I do think there is an emergency/triage level of need, and that pisses me off, because it was entirely foreseeable that we would be here.

    The reason I think we need the data I referenced, and the reason I am changing my opinion on at least the EFFECTIVENESS of private security, as it was deployed around the Poverello Center, is because I am listening to people like Pat Montgomery and David Pritchard about what they saw and are seeing, and I feel like they are being genuine in describing their experiences, so I’m making adjustments in my own thoughts on this matter.

    As for your last comment, the Native guy said the creep seemed like he was of Middle Eastern descent. I didn’t really feel like opening up that can, but you asked.

    • David says:

      I think your correct there needs to be some kind of a triage going on here. Nothing wrong with simply asking questions. However, you bring up a VERY valid point we need to know who is in our community. Being homeless doesn’t vacate anyone in or not in a house from having to register, if required by law to do so. Registered offenders need to be able to be identifiable to law enforcement. About 2 weeks ago a co-worker and myself were just driving and had our radio on. A call came across about someone in a truck trying to get kids near the school to get in with him. That’s not even an abnormal call these days it’s absolutely ridiculous.

  5. TC says:

    Mr Hunt – thank you for your commentary; truly did enlighten. Housing First can work – for a certain subset of the homeless. In other cases, transitional housing works better. It is my contention that the Homeless Industrial Complex seeks to lump ALL homeless together. In doing so it seems Housing First has become the industry standard that applies to all. Therefore, I dont see it as having had great success. If it did Seattle/Portland should have solved this years ago.
    I want to see the less fortunate helped but think it will take a more individualized or group targeted approach to see true success.

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