by Travis Mateer
As I prepared to write this post up, Johnny Ryall started playing. If you’re not familiar with this Beastie Boys song about a homeless man in New York, here are some of the lyrics:
The reality of a homeless man living on the streets of a big American city, like New York, is nothing new. It’s not even unique to see homelessness in smaller towns, though services do often pull people to larger urban areas because that’s where medical services and suckers with disposable income tend to be.
So, what’s driving the current crisis in Missoula and beyond, and why does it seem more visible this year than any previous year I can remember? This week’s episode of the Week in Review should help answer those questions.
For a visual aid, here’s one example of an encampment under a walking bridge I documented on Friday. I know this urban camper well, and he’s essentially a homeless hoarder with a propensity for “landscaping” that causes serious erosion. Not good.
One of the factors making this year so problematic is last year’s closure of the Reserve Street area to illegal camping. During the last few years, after the Johnson Street shelter closed for the winter season, Reserve Street camps would bloom, but not this year.
Despite my initial skepticism, it turns out the fencing along the Reserve Street bridge, combined with private security doing patrols in the area, has effectively stopped this area from the activity that resulted in over 40 TONS of trash being removed last year. After multiple clean-ups of the area, that number ended up being closer to 60 tons, or 132,000 pounds, of homeless trash right next to our prized Clark Fork river.
Now the encampments are dispersed all around Missoula, and a recent clean-up of the disaster brewing beneath the Russel Street bridge cost the city $2,200.
This picture shows a resident of the camp, Clayton Shaya, moving shit out. I spoke with Shaya a few weeks ago about their most problematic camper, and was slightly encouraged that he did genuinely seem to be TRYING to keep a lid on the drug-fueled craziness, but it wasn’t working. This is where I saw a man so high he couldn’t get his pants up, and this is where the 24 year old with a meth dealer friend was living.
I checked this area out on Friday and only one tent remained, but this game of whack-a-mole is going to continue all summer, with hotspots emerging, and city staff trying to keep up with the complaints. For example, the park by Youth Homes has now seen a doubling of tents in direct proximity to where struggling youth are housed. This is a terrible situation, and the women who work at Youth Homes don’t feel safe.
Below is a picture from May 24th, then another one from June 2nd from a slightly different vantage point. More tents are in the vicinity, outside the frame of the camera.
The Missoulian coverage of the Russell Street clean-up is interesting to me for one reason, and that’s the critical context of Clayton Shaya’s non-appearances in Municipal Court (emphasis mine):
Thursday also happened to be the last day Shaya had a chance to appear in Missoula Municipal Court for a Public Nuisance citation he received on May 25. He failed to appear Thursday since he was busy packing up his belongings.
He said he felt the coincidence was “setting him up for failure.”
Municipal Court includes a grace period, so Shaya has until June 15 before an arrest warrant would be issued. He also failed to appear for a previous Public Nuisance citation, and that grace period extends until June 10.
This context is important because it indicates, at least to me, that the Missoulian’s editorial team might be aware of the public frustration over this newspaper’s diminished, biased coverage of important topics like this one. I will give credit where I think credit is due, so kudos to Mayor Hess for being onsite during the clean-up:
For MY coverage of local action (with an occasional post about UFOs and Nazis), the links to the week’s posts are below. Also, I wanted to include a link to an article mentioned in the podcast, and that’s the one by Brandon Smith, titled How To Solve Violence In The US? Remove Democrat Run Cities And Bring Back Asylums. It’s an interesting read. Now, the week’s posts:
Is Anyone In The Criminal Justice System Doing Their F*cking Job? (May 31st, 2023)
Keeping A Close Eye On Local Government (June 1st, 2023)
We’re Keeping The Coroner And Crime Lab Busy In Zoom Town! (June 2nd, 2023)
Thank you for listening/reading as I figure out formats that work, and try to change around the ones that don’t. It is MUCH appreciated!