How Many Different Conversations On “Urban Camping” Are We Even Having?

by Travis Mateer

Is being homeless in a public park now illegal? What about watching sunrises in a park? Maybe we need a system reboot, like one council person suggested. Or maybe we should fund homes, not sweeps.

But what about the kids in summer camp programs? And the young woman working at Secret Seconds who regularly picks up poop and vomit? And the mom with the kid who knows what to do when she finds syringes?

I know, tell them the answer is simple: the ONLY answer to “houselessness” is housing. I agree, and am in total support of JAIL housing and NURSING HOME housing and LOONY BIN housing while we tear down every institution and rebuild this entire clusterfuck of a nation from scratch.

Sound like a plan?

Near the end of the six hour meeting I found out there WAS a plan to address all this, but guess what? According to Mayor Hess, “Our long term plan failed at the ballot box last year…”

While a totally ineffective labor personality (I wouldn’t call him a leader) tried to help the naysayers of this 90 day measure by depicting the removal of the Russell Street encampment in the most dire terms he could muster, it’s hard to say how many people actually support this emergency measure compared to how many oppose it because, frankly, it’s hard to say how many conversations we are even having.

One guy (who I couldn’t understand at all) wanted to make a SECOND comment, but was told no by our Mayor, so the man finally left after flipping Mayor Hess the bird. Was that before or after the commenter who got feint from a medical condition?

You gotta love us, the public, for doing our part sending the civic choo-choo train off the rails. Mayor Hess must have sensed the public’s desire to comment would be prolific, so there was almost NO time restraint imposed. Did I exploit this latitude graciously provided by our Mayor? No, I kept my shit tight, and as focused as possible.

One of the things I appreciated about our Mayor’s attempt at candor last night was the admission that the Authorized Camping Site (ACS) was a failed experiment where stuff like human trafficking had been occurring. In one of my comments (I made three) I conveyed this appreciation, since I had just been talking with someone about local homeless services and human trafficking earlier in the day.

At the end of the night everything passed with ease, and if it wasn’t 1:30am I might try to anticipate what this will mean in the weeks and months to come, but Heidi West asked too many questions, and thanks to the lengthy conversation about when the sun makes the outside bright enough to be considered DAY, I just don’t have anything left in the tank.

When I regain my cognitive abilities I’ll check local media and see what THEY made of the urban camping conversation. I’m sure it will be as helpful as Jim Nugent’s guidance “from above”, whatever that means.

If you appreciate my ability to sit through 6 hours of City Council without stabbing myself in the leg with my pen, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is waiting for your support, or you can make a donation at my about page.

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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7 Responses to How Many Different Conversations On “Urban Camping” Are We Even Having?

  1. GBheavy says:

    Not having a conversation about the Ten Year Plan anymore. Saw the corpse of it last night.

  2. Mrs Stitch says:

    Nothing in the Missoulian yet. The TV stations just run the same video over and over. I have no idea what the emergency ordinance does. Is it just magic words for federal $$$ or something?

    PS more tents under the footbridge now.

  3. Bill W. says:

    We’re going to talk about the problem, We’ve been talking about the problem, and we’re going to keep talking about the problem.(Paraphrased) Wow.

  4. John Ulrigg says:

    The housing authority under Jim Nugent’s tutelage have acquired over 600 rental properties that they procure income from that goes back to the housing authority they have no business operating like a business their business is housing people and now they’re holding 600 houses where they can sell those to the people that are in them take that money and build ample housing for every homeless person in this town this dance this b******* this fiasco that they play help us help us Federal money help us crisis team failure b******* that was all arpa money Jordan hess your hessing up our government stop making a hess of everything

    Just like when I told you in 2015 I couldn’t say people for camping in the city you’re just now in 2023 admitting that Jordan you were there Gwen Jones was there and there’s quite a few other city council people who heard me die a tribe about the ninth circuit court and the ruling desert rain versus the city of Los Angeles and Boise b Martin even to the point where district court judge me into court and made a ruling on the 9th circuit Court opinion so don’t give me this s*** that you just now found this out that’s a lie

    So Jordan you just keep lying and lying and lying you lie right to people’s face Jordan you’re a narcissistic personality disorder liar you still won’t even cop to the fact that you were of the mantra I work everyday to remove capitalism from our society how’s that reconciled with a man running a capitalist greedy capitalist government that cannot get enough money you’re a capitalist denier is that what you would be called come on Jordan answer the questions I’ve asked you give me back my goddamn life and my money that you f****** took

  5. John Kevin Hunt says:

    You’re absolutely right, that last night’s six-hour Council meeting was spent mostly debating and commenting on things extraneous to what was on the floor. Rarely have I been so frustrated. At issue was a piss-poorly drafted ordinance that would have rated a grade of “D” or a “redo” order from a law professor, if turned in as an assignment. After two weeks of my pointing out that the second sentence of the severability clause is not even grammatically comprehensible, it was not fixed. Not even by Deputy City Attorney Sulbury, its author.

    Mr. Sulbury just got around to pulling the housing/refugee problem “off the back burner” where it’s been for five years since Martin v. City of Boise was decided, and has invoked Martin numerous times while not once counseling the Council re Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, which is the seven-month-old 9th Circuit ruling that controls.

    Under Johnson, a City is free to enforce laws and regulations against unauthorized structures, depositing human and solid waste, selling drugs and other laws. What a City cannot do, is penalize mere sleeping on public property by unhoused persons, and their use of blankets and rudimentary accoutrement of weather protection, whenever there is no other, adequate and safe shelter provided in the City.

    So, what would happen, if (as is quite possible) the economy takes a nose dive and
    we have millions of unhoused domestic refugees in this country? Suppose all available shelters are full. Where are they supposed to go? And it won’t take that kind of collapse for this occur. In that event, the City will have to either open up some space for rudimentary camping, or evict/cite persons who put their bedroll down in a City park, and get slam dunked in federal class action lawsuit, then enjoined, held in comtempt for noncompliance and assessed huge fines for each day it remains in contempt. Yet, for some reason (certainly not illiteracy in the English language), you not only clamored for passage of the defective Ordinance, but later adamantly opposed an amendment I drafted that would prevent such a bad result for Missoula by providing a narrow safety valve under which the Parks and Recreation Director could temporarily open a park or portion thereof to the unhoused with no other place to go.

    You indeed seem intent on burning the homeless response house down and rebuilding. I submit that’s irrational unless you want civil disorder and the judicial consequences I’ve mentioned (not to mention killing some of the house residents). The house is old and decrepit, and needs to be thoroughly inspected, the rotting areas thoroughly documented, and kept temporarily open while a new house, on a sound foundation (including themes on which you’ve been hammering), is constructed and the old one is demolished. At times, you sound very much like the brownshirts in 1936 Germany who railed against the “vermin” in the Jewish ghettos. That soon expanded into mockery, vilification (and ultimately internment in concentration camps, and later, extermination) of disabled people, “the feeble,” and the other “undesirables” (such as folks from whom you wish to “protect” your children whom you would not protect from COVID-19).

    It’s distressing that you here are going Nazi. Is it the sleep deprivation? First you slam a brain-damaged individual with cognitive impairment and a speech impediment (very bad, very bad, you should have found out the facts before so belittling him), then you bitch about my narcolepsy, then you attack Mark Anderlik (a Missoula community organizer for 40+ years– longer than you’ve been alive?) — a person who has never sold out or profited from his organizing, and has always advocated (and brought about positive change) for the rights of workers, tenants, seniors, and the community at large, with the hard wok of deep organizing, with substantially more success than you’ve had with megaphones (though I’ve no problem with a megaphone at the right time and place).

    Then you rampage in favor of “jails and looney bins.” Well, as you are so very well aware, our jail is at capacity. Build another (how do you justify that public expense?), and it will get filled to capacity. And so on. But the jail overcrowding that thwarts keeping many defendants in petrial detention, doesn’t deter you from trashing our municipal judges and sheriff for complying with the Eighth Amendment. And “looney bins?” Is this latent bigotry manifesting? What derogatory euphemistic/epithet for these people you say you love, is next? It isn’t easy to send people to “looney bins,” as you well know. And we don’t have a “looney bin” big enough. But the absurd hand-wringing of the Mayor and Council as it perpetually cries “There’s nothing we can do,” is more excuse-making, because there are interventions that can be done when mentally-ill people exhibit behaviors that fall below the involuntary commitment standard.

    I get, from reading this blog for some time, that you believe that God is guiding you and providing you with ephipanistic “synchronicities” (in psychopathology, “ideas of reference” — don’t get too miffed, I have them, too, but in a different, and not Messianic sense). My next question is whether, when Gwen and Eran nail you to your cross, you will turn to the thief next to you and offer comfort, forgiveness and redemption, or rather will call for him to be “held accountable” by damnation to Hell? I was thinking that you might find a seat at the Mayor’s Homeless Policy Advisory Team (though understandably you might decline such an offer because it would compromise your independence); those thoughts are exploded when the Nazi-esque rhetoric is spouted.

    I so admire your passion, and your in-the-trenches investigatory endeavors. I so appreciate your reporting on things that otherwise would *never* be illuminated, by our wretched local “news media.” I appreciate your deep institutional knowledge and your persistent efforts to burst the City government’s bubble of naivete concerning what camping conditions, and some chronically unhoused, treatment/services-resistant folks, are like. But it perplexes me that your “tough love” at times morphs into bigotry and protofascism.

    You have the experience, insight and intellect to be a leading influencer on this issue. But I suggest that moving from level-headed, strident-but-evidence-based illumination of inconvenient truths, to incitement of culture war, mockery of disabled individuals, characterization of persons with mental ilnesses as “loonies,” etc., etc., is never going to imbue you with any credibility whatsoever among those with the ability to change policies. It’s apparent that my cred was mortally wounded with several councilors literally years ago, and it will never be restored with some of them.

    Bottom line: Deputy City Attorney Ray Sulbury — who continues to cite five-year-old case law and not the seven-month-old 9th Circuit decision that is relevant — failed to correct any of the numerous misconceptions expressed by City Councilors other than Daniel Carlino. What this means is that when the stabbings and assaults at the Poverello Center and the Johnson Street shelter deter unhoused persons from utilizing them, and no other space is available for housing crisis refugees, the Parks Director is PROHIBITED from opening up a park or portion thereof to them. In other words, such persons’ houselessness would be criminalized. And when that happens, the City will be in noncompliance with Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, subject to a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment and injunction, fined tens of thousands for contempt for each day of continued noncompliance, and then subject to a federal class action lawsuit for Eighth Amendment violations.

    This, because we have people in our local government who cannot understand the English language once a sentence contains two clauses, or if more than two sentences form a paragraph; also because they do not read, and are not briefed on, the court decisions they piously mis-cite to, when they vote on ordinances they don’t understand. Your fasciastic “solution” (jails! looney bins!) would put the City in flagrant violation of three Ninth Circuit Court rulings. It sounded last night as if you haven’t read any of them, but that puts you in good company because it’s equally obvious that neither have all but one of the City Councilors. But let’s first return to your personal insults and bigotry in this piece:

    The “One guy (who I couldn’t understand at all)” is afflcited with a brain condition that renders his speech difficult to understand unless one listens carefully. The Mayor has no trouble understanding him. Neither did I. He gives public comment fairly often. Sometimes he forgets his train of thought in mid-comment. He has just as much right to speak as you do. The Mayor and Council accomodate him, as they should, as the law says they must. I did not see him “flip the bird” to the Mayor (I was sitting about four feet from the gentleman); if he did, it had to have been a low-bird hip-flip.

    I was the commenter with a medical condition who you say got “feint.” You know well that I have narcolepsy with cataplexy. When, halfway through my first comment, my voice began to waver, the Mayor paused me and I was provided a chair. Once seated, I regained muscle tone and picked up exactly where I left off. I delivered my second comment without interruption but needed help back to my seat. You know, Travis, in 2018 I was houseless in Oregon as a result of my condition and the havoc it wreaked in my life. I could very easily become one of those you would warehouse in jail or a “looney bin.”

    In the last couple months, I have cited to your work cleaning nasty campsites and interacting with unhoused persons. I’ve supported — as I did last night — your call for enforcement of criminal, environmental and health laws. The City Council has no clue what it can and cannot do, because (1) it has gotten rotten advice; (2) Councilors don’t read the court decisions they refer to (when they misrepresent their import); (3) it appears that despite two of them having law degrees and all of them being intelligent, only one of them is able to comprehend English writing above a fourth grade level.

    City Attorney Jim Nugent himself, however, appreciated my proposed ordinance submission, sent me great email detailing parts I should consider tweaking and why, and personally (not on behalf of the City or Mayor’s Poicy Advisory Team) likes it, as it would have the City Council do what article II(1) of the CIty Charter chgarges fhe council with doing.

    Endorse my proposed ordinance! It isn’t a plan to deal with homelessness, it is a road map for arriving at a plan. Any other City committed to rational response to the crisis would adopt something like this in the wake of such a crisis.

    I wish you well. Get some sleep.

    — jkh

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