by William Skink
I remember the conversations about the Poverello Center’s relocation and to say they were contentious is an understatement. One of the options was to rebuild at the Ryman Street location, but downtown businesses were never going to let that happen. If they could get only get the Pov out of downtown, they thought, then all of the problems with chronically homeless individuals would magically go away.
We tried to explain the difference between the “transient” population and the majority of people served by the shelter, but those kind of nuanced distinctions are difficult to explain when fear takes hold. Needless to say much of what we said fell on deaf ears.
Today the Missoulian has a story about the owner of the Florence building considering closing down its lobby due to aggressive transients. What we were saying years ago has now been proven true: moving a homeless shelter won’t improve the problems of addiction and mental illness that our community appears incapable of addressing.
Instead of blaming the homeless shelter (which people are still doing) that temporarily houses over a hundred people every night–people who abide by the rules of sobriety, do their required chores in return for shelter (yes, the shelter requires people help maintain the building) and for the most part transition out of the shelter in 30-60 days–it would be nice if more culpable parties got some of the “credit” for creating the situation downtown that more and more people are saying feels unsafe.
Take Wordens, for example. Wordens is owned by Tim France, who is also the president of the BID (Business Improvement District). Wordens sells alcohol, including single cans of cheap malt liquor, like Steel Reserve and Colt 45. Some of the tall cans of this gut-rot are equivalent to 3 shots of whiskey. Last year there was an effort by the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Commission to see if downtown alcohol retailers were willing to voluntarily remove the single cans of specific brands of gut-rot. The overwhelming response from Tim France and other booze peddlers was no, they were not willing to lose the revenue from enabling alcoholics and self-medicating mentally ill people, even though it’s primarily alcohol (and in the last year, meth) that is at the root of much of the problems downtown has been complaining about for years.
Not surprisingly it was around this time I started developing the sentiment of ‘fuck this stupid town’ because one can only bang one’s head against a wall for so long before becoming very agitated.
The less-stupid town of Billings has done a much better job of dealing with the transient issue because they have had better community buy-in and better institutional responses. They have two police officers working in collaboration with a drug counselor, and the support of Rimrock, providing addiction treatment services as the carrot, and mandatory jail time as the stick. Billings is now seeing results, while Missoula continues banging its head against the proverbial wall.
It’s actually pretty simple, Missoula. If we don’t fix our jail crisis, nothing will get better. If we don’t fix the gaping holes in supportive services for addicts and those dealing with mental health issues, nothing will get better. I wish our city leaders would prioritize these issues over impotent gun loophole ordinances and the save Syrian refugees crusade, but I’m not holding my breath.
During one of the last MDAC meetings I attended, outgoing city councilman, Jason Wiener, expressed his frustration that we have been having the same conversations about this issue since 2009. I share that frustration because for 7 years I have had a front-row seat in this worsening shit-show, and some of the stories I could tell would drop jaws.
This is the lens through which I see. This is the core of the anger I can barely contain.
While Missoula laments over the town it no longer is, some real audacious panhandlers are trying to shakedown MRA for a few million dollars for student housing downtown:
A team of developers is urging the city to consider – with some urgency – a proposal to help pay the cost of expanding public parking in the downtown district, saying that rising steel prices have placed the project in jeopardy.
Jim McLeod, senior managing director and co-founder of Farran Realty Partners, said his firm is ready to move forward with a student housing project and parking garage on Front Street.
It’s asking the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to contribute roughly $2.9 million to help pay a portion of the parking garage, a portion of which would be reserved for public use.
“We’ve got our contract ready to sign, and we understand what our costs are,” said McLeod. “But costs are rising every day with steel because of the tariff placed recently on China. This project is teetering a little bit, so we’re looking for some assistance in a public-private partnership to make it happen.”
At its regular board meeting this week, MRA agreed the project has value to the downtown community and should move forward, and it’s likely to support Farran’s request at a future date.
Nice. Downtown panhandlers really need to get their act together. If you present well, and dangle the threat of lost development, you can bend over local taxpayers for millions. Socialism is great for the business class, especially when there are homeless shelter scapegoats to blame for the negative impacts of growth Missoula can’t even understand, let alone fix.