Mayoral Candidate Shawn Knopp’s Homelessness Plan: Bring Back The Thunderdome?

by Travis Mateer

While city officials utilize acronyms to refer to anything from policy (JEDI) to homeless camps (ACS), other municipal operators, like city police, sometimes use more colorful terminology to describe the locations they frequent, like THE THUNDERDOME!

For those unfamiliar with the Mad Max movie franchise, here’s a description of the Thunderdome from a fan site:

Now that I’ve firmly established the cultural context of what is meant by the term THUNDERDOME, let’s see how the plan from Mayoral candidate, Shawn Knopp, fits with this idea.

From the link (emphasis mine):

“With the Boise lawsuit from the Ninth District Court, we can’t make houselessness illegal and that makes it very hard to enforce. So, you know, my plan would be to find one place to make it legal to camp,” began Knopp. We get them all in one area and then it’ll be easier to police and then the ones that don’t follow the rules, we have avenues to take legally.”

This is NOT, unfortunately, a viable plan. Even worse, this plan has already been rendered moot after the emergency declared by Mayor Hess late last week, which activates two emergency mills in order to generate enough taxpayer money to re-open the Johnson Street shelter. With more shelter beds available, the limitations imposed by the Ninth District Court decision can be loosened, and “urban campers” can be prevented from creating health and safety situations along the river and in parks.

Shawn Knopp is making the same mistake all the other Mayoral candidates are making, and that mistake is NOT hiring me as a paid consultant to leverage my expertise on this complicated subject. Would it help to communicate that my work availability is wide open, since the book store I applied to turned me down?

If Knopp is dedicated to the Thunderdome model, then my suggestion would be to make it into a reality tv show. I’m pretty sure the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office has developed an important skill set when it comes to acting for the cameras, so turning homeless misery into opportunity shouldn’t be too difficult.

I don’t mean to rag on Knopp for a substandard plan because it’s really not his fault, nor should it be his responsibility alone to address. Especially considering how many people are currently being PAID to find housing solutions for those without conventional places to live.

Later in the article, Knopp does articulate a more accurate understanding regarding WHY our current approach isn’t working.

To have a system that can function with all the complicated sub-populations moving through it like fucked up branches through a storm drain, a daunting amount of infrastructure and policies must be developed. We need more treatment options for addiction, and more nursing homes for difficult people, and mental health facilities, and, yes, probably more jail capacity.

Instead we’re going to get MORE taxes that will be gobbled up by inflation, or diverted to MRA for more bullshit incentivizing of development that will just put MORE economic pressure on those who aren’t getting the raises to keep up with the cost of living.

And while all this is happening, our newspaper industry is dying, leaving Missoula locals less informed than ever before about what’s happening in their own community.

From the link (emphasis mine):

When Western Montana wanted to know about the end of World War 2, find out about “JFK” being assassinated, or learn what had been destroyed in the devastating “Big Blow Up” fires of 1910, they eagerly turned to the pages of the Missoulian.

But now, after surviving the turmoil, and economic challenges since the city’s earliest days in 1870, the storied newspaper has become another victim of changing news tastes and rising costs. The Missoulian announced over the weekend it will cease to be a “daily” printed newspaper, only producing a print edition three times a week.

No matter how you look at this, it’s a sad state of affairs, one that offers two possible responses: accept it, or do something about it.

I’m choosing the latter, and you can help by supporting Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF), or making 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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5 Responses to Mayoral Candidate Shawn Knopp’s Homelessness Plan: Bring Back The Thunderdome?

  1. John Kevin Hunt says:

    I met with Shawn and was pleasantly surprised. He’s truly non-partisan. He’s jnot a Chesire-cat-smiling, gladhanding, cliche-spewing politician. And based on his answers to some delicate questions I asked him, I’m convinced that he is honest. If he just knew how to campaign, he’d be a force in the race capable of pulling off an upset.

    I greatly respect your extensive experience and knowledge conceming our unhoused population problem. But with respect, I think you’re just wrong when you say that opemning Johnson Street year-round will take care of the Martin/Johnson conundrum and urban camping. You, yourself, have decried the overcrowding and unsafe conditions there and at the Pov. Moreover, the successes of Houston, and San Francisco’s success in the Castro District, refute your claim that ‘under one [or two] roof[s]’ isn’t a winning strategy. For sure, just moving people into a concentration camp won’t work, and we must avoid the “build it and they will come” problem, and exacerbation of oppressive property taxation. Those are my concerns about Mike Nugent’s proposal. But, there is a way to make that proposal viable, affordable and productrive rather than counterproductive, which I’ll be asking the City Councilors to graft onto Nugent’s plan this morning at the Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting:

    In order to (1) prevent exacerbation of the situation; (2) garner broad public support, it is ESSENTIAL to (A) strive for a revenue-neutral means of funding; (B) support an onsite navigation center staffed by outreach workers 4 hours per day, six days per week; (C) provide 24/7 security at the site(s).


    (1) Procure from its custodian, expedited provision of the inventory of City-owned properties, and look for appropriate sites(s) on that list as a first option. (I’m told that the City owns 12 acres adjacent to the golf course that is one block from a bus stop).

    (2) Docket an in-person meeting by the Mayor and persons he selects, with Gov. Gianforte, at which a request is made for the Governor to activate the MT National Guard for the purpose of constructing barracks on whatever site(s) are selected. There is precedent for this. In addition to barracks, a bldg. for outreach workers to meet with site residents. This can be accomplished in a matter of days once the Governor issues such an order. Again there is precedent for this.

    (3) Avoid increasing citizens’ property taxes!!! Adopt a resolution declaring this emergency to constitute a city-wide blight, and direct MRA to identify and sequester tax increment revenues to the extent possible, from its URDs to fund 4 hr/day, 6 day/wk presence of outreach workers, and 24/7 site security (and other expenses including construction if necessary). This should not be a problem, given the ability of the MRA to extend the life of existing URDs if necessary in order to service bonded indebtedness. Do not open any more URDs and do not spend any of MRA’s slush fund on anyting beyond debt service and this city-wide blight called “the homeless problem.”

    (4) Focus persistently, daily, but compassionately, on service-resistant persons. This strategy was instrumental in Houston’s great success in nearly eradicating street houselessness, and in San Francisco’s recent success in transition of long-service-resistant unhoused persons — whose unauthorized encampments had literally overrun the Castro District — to enthusiastic participation in transition services.

    (5) Work with the County to provide a property tax break to any landlord who agrees (A) to rent to compliant re-entry program participants, and (B) to accept Section 8 vouchers.

    The cynic in me says that I’m dreaming, that the Council will never do this, that the TIF grifters behind the scenes will quash any thought of it, that MRA will defend its turf and that the unhoused and taxpayers both will be mere pawns in the Mayoral race.

    The idealist and fighter in me says that it’s worth fighting for, and failing to fight for it beckons disaster.


    • I’m not saying it’s good, but having the bed capacity by reopening Johnson Street is the missing component, we are told, to keeping parks from becoming safety/health hazards. We shall see.

  2. JC says:

    You’d never know it, but Western Montana Mental Health is imploding. It shut down its 16 bed Recovery Center Missoula recently. But Recovery Centers Montana (no relation) has opened 150 beds of Addiction Treatment in western Montana, and has another 16 beds of addiction/mental health treatment opening up close by, soon. 70 beds or so for men are out in Clinton. Been open for almost 6 months. Has about 50 people in it. But you’d never know about it from lack of media or political news. It’s a privately opened system, built on a Medicaid payment model. Getting the federal/state waiver for Medicaid facilities larger than 16 beds was key.

    They bought Glacier Hope Homes in Columbia Falls and have about 36 men there. They bought Cedar Creek integrative and another mental health outfit east of the divide. They’re merging them together. And they’ll keep expanding until they are the biggest treatment provider in MT.

    And what does that tell us about the failure of WMMH? That a nonprofit with a Board full of county commissioners shouldn’t be in critical business like this. RCM already is getting contracts from tribes to take in their members. Why not city and counties? They are building a model that they think will land them a leading place in the PAC NW addiction and mental health field. Now we as a community just need to help them reintegrate clients into a better living arrangement in our communities.

  3. Travis,

    I read your very public application for employment with PAID compensation with amusement. Nothing like a subtle hint here or there.

    I appreciate your work and interest in seeing this issue brought to a successful conclusion, but am unsure as to the best approach. Certainly, something has to be done about it. What to do and how to do it are debatable.

    If “squatting” is defined as living on property which is not yours and for which you do not have permission from the owner, then it can be said that homeless people who do not live in officially sanctioned locations are, in reality, squatters and trespassers. This situation is nothing new, however, and there have been times in American history when squatting and trespassing actually was encouraged and condoned by the government, vigorously defended by the idea of Manifest Destiny, a truly demented form of belief in the early parts of the country.

    I am including a link to an article by Ryan McMaken which expands on this concept. It touches on the homelessness problem.

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