by William Skink
Every year across the nation a point-in-time survey is administered to get a head count of homelessness in America. In Missoula the survey was administered from sundown last Thursday through Friday, and it occurred in tandem with something called Project Homeless Connect, a full day of bringing multiple service providers together to benefit homeless individuals in our community.
Locally the numbers have yet to be crunched. Nationally, especially in major American cities, homelessness is going up. Why? Because revitalizing downtown spaces, known as gentrification, is pushing out low-rent housing. From the link:
As once derelict or sleepy downtown districts in U.S. cities evolve into thriving hot spots, officials are grappling with what to do about homeless populations that have long inhabited them. The tension is “all over the country,” said James Wright, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida who has researched the issue. “Its major effect is just to displace them to other places in the city.”
In just the past five years, New York has seen a 42% increase in its homeless population. Los Angeles has seen a 24% increase, and San Francisco a 16% increase.
Seattle has also experienced an increase in homelessness. Last week, two people were shot to death and others injured in a Seattle homeless camp known as The Jungle. Three teenage boys–13, 16, and 17–have been arrested. Ironically, the Seattle’s mayor was giving a speech on the rise of homelessness in Seattle when the shootings happened:
“This violent crime shocked Seattle,” said Mayor Ed Murray, who thanked the police for their quick action, the Seattle Times reported. The mayor was giving a speech on Seattle’s growing problem of homelessness when the shootings occurred.
Missoula is not immune. Two years ago a brutal murder occurred under the Reserve Street bridge when Kevin Lino and his sidekick (who is out of jail) beat and tortured another homeless man, Jack Gilbert.
Being without stable housing is not just traumatic, it’s dangerous. Assaults happen with unfortunate regularity among people living on the streets, and much of this violence isn’t reported. Reporting assaults, for people on the streets, has the potential of making them targets of further violence.
Like many municipalities, Missoula has a 10 year plan to end homelessness, but the results have been lackluster so far. I guess helping people in need is just not as sexy as trying to save a few Syrian refugees.
But homelessness isn’t going away any time soon in America. And if current economic trends continue, it will probably get worse.