Can We Assess Recent Failures To Triage The Near Future Of Homeless Shelter Services In Missoula?

by Travis Mateer

Some interesting conversations are happening ABOUT and AROUND the urban camping/shelter bed quandary, and part of that conversation includes frustration about WHEN the emergency declaration was made. From the link (emphasis mine):

Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess on Friday declared a state of emergency, citing the city’s lack of shelter space and the growing number of homeless individuals living on the streets.

He restated his rationale for proclaiming the emergency on Monday night, though some members of City Council said that Friday’s declaration came as a surprise and should have waited another week until council members had been looped in.

“I’m a little frustrated that it was declared an emergency on a Friday and it’s not opening for 90 days, so we could have discussed it on City Council,” said council member Mike Nugent. “A lot of us were left to answer questions we didn’t have answers to over the weekend. Some of the neighbors feel there wasn’t a lot of transparency in the process.”

On Wednesday, this anticipated conversation kicked off at 10am with a presentation that featured a new resolve by houseless service providers to band together for the greater good of increasing shelter beds to deal with this emergency. Here’s a slide that details who these houseless leaders are:

After the presentation, it was up to Mike Nugent (who made the referral) to explain why he wants this ongoing conversation for the legislative branch, and part of that is acknowledging how little has been communicated about this emergency declaration, not mention recent failures, like the Authorized Camping Site (ACS), and an unsuccessful effort to extend Johnson Street for JUST night services, closing the shelter during the day during the month of April (in 2021).

This latter effort didn’t work for a number of reasons, said Emily Armstrong, including an increase in negative impacts for neighbors in this area of Missoula (Midtown).

Council member Kristen Jordan was particularly glum during the morning committee session, stating explicitly that “Ward 6 is tired of being ground zero” for shelter services. Jordan also asked why her and another Council member have been shut out of the Urban Camping group. The tensions around this conversation are palpable.

Daniel Carlino had questions about MRA, since they are being talked about for funding Johnson Street renovations, and questions about private security, calling out both Rogers International and Black Knight security for alleged problems. Can we have a PUBLIC security force, ponders Carlino? I think we do, and they are called police officers. This conversation isn’t going in a good direction.

When it came time for public comment, Mr. J. Kevin Hunt got up and did his thing. Part of his commentary included a very astute, very concise statement to City Council that “YOUR POLITICAL CAPITAL IS RUNNING OUT!” Mr. Hunt further begged Council to think outside of the box and to avoid business as usual approaches to this crisis.

Another citizen who provided public comment lives in the neighborhood where the Johnson Street shelter is located and indicated he had a BIG concern for security issues, speaking to the perception that many clients DO NOT WANT help. This citizen claims there’s been what seems like disinterest from the city AND the Poverello Center to address neighborhood concerns, and this has left many in the neighborhood very frustrated.

The question posed in the title of the post doesn’t seem like it can happen–the assessment piece, at least–because too much pressure is presently building for any kind of honest assessment about past mistakes. Most of this pressure will come from the property tax freak-out about to hit, combined with the budget talk that heats up next month. Then, of course, there’s the politics of November elections this year, with our placeholder Mayor wanting to be the actual, voted-by-the-people Mayor.

If an assessment were to be made, and the scope unhindered by funding constraints and self-interested politics, what could/should be studied? I have some ideas, and those ideas include:

Current shelter capacity, including in-patient treatment beds and other emergency-oriented stabilization services

Current numbers of people on waiting list for Coordinated Entry System

Numbers for calls for service (911) in area of Poverello Center/Johnson Street Shelter with a focus on the Rogers International contract

Assessment of what went wrong at the Authorized Camping Site (ACS)

Assessment of punitive shelter policies restricting services for problem clients; example would be "violation out" policies, including permanent out individuals

Assessment on criminal justice interactions to identify where the gaps are, or if maybe the whole system is FUBAR'd--jail, municipal judges, probation, etc.

These are just a few ideas of things that need to be assessed off the top of my head, I’m sure there are more, but it’s hard to reflect when we are in an EMERGENCY!

Another slide shown to Council highlights barriers to shit happening. Here’s the slide:

With all these barriers in mind, wouldn’t it make sense to MAKE SURE we are serving people with ACTUAL connections to this community?

The need to set a proper filter–a reality dictated by limited resources–is NOT something service providers are inclined to do, for a number of reasons. Some of that is because of grant funding, and some of that is ideological, but the net result is a tremendous loss of faith, from the public, that limited public dollars are being responsibly stewarded, hence the loud NO to the crisis mill levy last November.

Later in the day, during a different committee meeting, my public comment was about the budget conversation and how it should include, in some way, the crisis of local media. Is there a potential public role for local government in empowering citizen journalism? For obvious, self-interested reasons, my answer would be yes, but I can easily see the slippery slope to simply creating another mouthpiece for government control.

That said, I don’t think there could be a WORSE time for local media to suck so bad. People need to know there ARE things being done, but much remains beneath the radar of a dying news industry.

If you would like to help MY local news effort, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to support me, and making a donation 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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2 Responses to Can We Assess Recent Failures To Triage The Near Future Of Homeless Shelter Services In Missoula?

  1. Roy says:

    I always appreciate your insight into the homeless problem. And it is a problem.

    When it comes to funding journalism from tax-payer dollars, I must protest. Journalists at market-funded outlets like Lee Enterprises love to decry how important their job is, but the market is saying otherwise. Lee Enterprises news outlets like the Missoulian have not gotten the story right on just about anything over the past 3 years. They have not told stories from individual parents or workers about the pain in the ass masks were and have not been fair about sharing science indicating they were useless. They never shared the risks of COVID vaccines, only cheered on the health departments and the public schools coercing them. They have no critical eye for the growing leviathan of city and county bureaucracy. There has been no mea culpas offered for getting it so wrong.

    Journalism is failing because they are mouthpieces for the government and have failed to tell the stories of individual citizens who are critical and fed up with the authoritarianism.

    We already have tax dollars going to “Public Information Officers” of the county and city, which these people are paid to blast constituents via email, social media and always available for quotes to the Missoulian. They also censor opinion they do not like, which was evident to anyone trying to share scientific information that did not match with their regime propaganda.

    I am personally delighted at the failure and firings happening at the local news outlets. It’s not because Lee is greedy that subscribers are down. It’s because people don’t want to subscribe to “news” that is not distinguishable from government propaganda. They miss big stories, ignore readers and the plight of citizens.

    Having the local government hand out more and more tax-payer money in the form of “grants” to outlets they deem worthy is a mighty bad idea. I guarantee your excellent reporting won’t be on their grant list. And if it ever is, you’d be in a good place to do some self-reflecting.

    • Well, here’s my reality: I can’t self-finance this shit forever, so however we revive truth and transparency in media, I’m willing to consider it. You know, so I can make rent and stuff.

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