by William Skink
For dying newspapers, controversy means clicks and clicks appeal to advertisers who want to market their products. I got a chance to see this up close with how the Missoulian reported on local homeless issues, maximizing the controversy even if it meant using sources who weren’t the most mentally stable.
The Syrian refugee issue quickly became one of those controversial issues that the Missoulian will milk for all it’s worth. I can see that inclination with the misleading title of the latest article: Missoula gearing up for another round of refugees.
Another round, you ask? When was the first round? Are Syrian refugees already among us, waiting to rape our women and destroy western civilization?
When you read the article, the first round of refugees referenced is the relocation of Hmong refugees from Vietnam, which happened three and a half decades ago. The immediacy of refugees coming, implied by the title of the article, is (purposively?) misleading, possibly intended to stir up the anti-refugee contingent. When dealing with the Missoulian it’s important to remember they are a failing business model desperately trying to stay afloat by stoking controversy.
That said, there are some things in the article I would like to address.
After discussing the challenge of integrating Hmong refugees, the article gets to the current dilemma:
It won’t be on the same scale, but the IRC is back in Missoula, laying the groundwork for another wave of refugees from unknown countries.
The IRC’s Bob Johnson expects that some time before the end of the fiscal year in September, the initial families of what will eventually number 100 men, women and children in the first year will land in Missoula.
They’ll need jobs and housing, schooling, medical care, social services and understanding.
The volunteer group, Soft Landing Missoula, is already busy helping to lay the groundwork. Johnson, who’s stalling his retirement from the IRC’s Seattle office to get the Missoula office up and running, has been to town a couple of times. The position of executive director in Missoula was posted last week.
“We’ve done a lot in conjunction with the IRC to make a lot of those relationships happen,” said Mary Poole of Soft Landing Missoula. “I think it was in January when we started gathering folks together and having meetings with housing people, jobs people, Missoula County Public Schools and the (English Language Learning) programs … anyone we thought would be directly impacted with working for the refugees.”
So, after being told this just a few months ago:
IRC’s visit is only the first step in the process. Being formally approved by an agency would take more analysis and more visits. The agency will examine whether Missoula’s infrastructure can handle the refugees and if so, how many. It will look at housing availability, employment opportunities and funding sources for refugees.
It’s now full steam ahead, starting in September.
Missoula doesn’t have much affordable housing, confirmed by this recent report. There is also a critical lack of available rentals, with Missoula hovering around a 3.9% vacancy rate, much lower than the national average.
Because of this low vacancy rate it is very hard to find people housing. I know this from working at the homeless shelter for seven years. Since opening in the new location, the Poverello Center has been temporarily housing between 120-150 homeless people every night. Why can’t people get into housing in Missoula? Because the rental market is so competitive, if you have any barrier–like bad credit, an eviction or a criminal record–you’re screwed.
Bringing refugees to Missoula will make it more difficult for unhoused individuals already here to find housing. The article acknowledges this housing reality, kind of, but then goes on to talk about refugees not having cars:
The refugee resettlement coincides with a housing crunch in Missoula. But with the relatively low volume of refugees – 25 families spaced out over a year’s time – it’s not expected to reach crisis proportions.
“One of the difficulties in this process is … people are not going to have vehicles,” noted Woodrow, who’s a property manager for the Missoula Housing Authority. “Fortunately we now have no-fare transit, so trying to find housing near transit lines is helpful.”
Woodrow invited Johnson and Soft Landing to an NARPM board meeting in February and said the organization dedicated to ethical landlord practices is trying to put the resettlement advocates in touch with “reputable, above-board property management groups.”
How nice, the refugees will be kept out of “felony flats” and other trailer parks where Missoula’s poor and disabled are relegated. They will also get to avoid the motel trap, where people spend between $700-$1,000 to stay in nasty, bed-bug ridden motel rooms.
Recently I’ve been writing about the deplorable situation we have in Montana when it comes to accessing mental health services. The article acknowledges that refugees will sometimes have preexisting health conditions and trauma-based mental health problems when they arrive. Is Missoula truly prepared for this?
Missoula has another thing to serve refugees that it didn’t have in the 1980s – Partnership Health Center, which has a mission of ensuring access for the underserved and the underinsured.
“I’m real interested on the cultural front what we’ll all learn,” Leahy said. “Depending on the areas and the circumstances that the refugees are coming from, there might be mental health assistance needed. Some refugees, of course, will have experienced some very traumatic events.”
I read this and just shake my head. Partnership Health Center is inundated with the needs that are already critical in our community. Expecting their staff to deal with language barriers and cultural differences on top of what they are already dealing with shows a serious level of ignorance on behalf of the do-gooders.
Here is how the article concludes:
Poole is confident that with the experienced IRC at the tiller and volunteers from Soft Landing eager to dig in, Missoula will be ready for its next round of refugees.
“I think for us, (success) is making sure Missoula itself feels supported, so that it can do its very best to support the refugees in turn,” she said.
She acknowledged the fears, misgivings and opposition the resettlement issue continues to spawn, and agreed that some points are legitimate.
“I don’t think we’re naively thinking this is all going to be Wonderland,” Poole said. “But Missoula does have the capacity to be an amazing home for a lot of people – and it has the potential not to be.”
Do social workers and ER staff and first responders feel supported in Missoula with the issues they already see every day with addiction and mental health? Not from the conversations I’ve had. Is Mary Poole and the rest of the world-saving refugee cheerleaders naively approaching this issue? In my opinion, hell yes.
I don’t expect the harsh reality I witnessed during seven years of shelter work to intrude on the efforts of Soft Landing. As a controversy this issue will get plenty of clicks, which is good for the Missoulian, and as a political wedge issue during an elections season, it will excite the Democratic base in Missoula, giving them another opportunity feel morally superior to the scared-ignorant white people who exist outside the liberal bubble in Missoula.