by William Skink
For years now the tireless refrain from chronic self-promoter, Greg Strandberg, has been to loudly bash anyone/anything that doesn’t make his own life better. Framing every issue in this manner is incredibly selfish and borderline narcissistic. But because he’s been obsessively persistent in commenting everywhere in the blogosphere comments are allowed, he is starting to get traction. Even Martin Kidston has lent his new media platform, Missoula Current, so Greg can offer a conservative counterpoint of fiscal restraint to liberal Missoula.
While I agree with some of his positions, and read his blog primarily because Greg now traffics in salacious political operative gossip to further the GOP agenda in Montana, his letter to the editor bashing the homeless shelter for the presence of gutter-punk street kids every summer is one of the laziest, ignorant statements I’ve read lately on homelessness, and downtown Missoula’s half-assed efforts to curb unwanted behavior EVERYONE agrees must be addressed (it’s just the matter of how, like how much, and who pays, where things get thorny).
Here is the statement ignorantly reducing the need for increasing law enforcement to busting transients:
We know the four police officers will cost $374,000 a year and we know that we need them now.
Why do we need them? It’s simple – to deal with the monumental transient problem we have downtown.
We created that problem by building the newfangled homeless shelter, prominently placed on Broadway. My how it draws in the young transients that choose a rag-tag existence of handouts as opposed to hard work!
Police need new officers to deal with this problem, and that’s obvious when the Florence Building is thinking of closing its lobby because the transients loitering out front are so bad.
So I hope the city will get its head out of the development clouds and start focusing on problems at the street level.
Greg, if you really believe “we” created “that” problem of street kids downtown by building a dignified shelter to more safely shelter people experiencing homelessness, not to mention the veteran program that helps vets beyond the impotent bitching of armchair assholes like yourself, then you are ignorant in addition to being an obnoxious self-promoter trying to monetize your online presence with two failed runs at being a politician.
Now, allow me to really answer the question of why gutter-punk train-hoppers and various other sub-strata of drainbow takers proliferate in Missoula around this time of year: it’s because Missoula is a beautiful, vibrant mountain town with a river running through it and a keep-it-weird alcohol/drug fueled nightlife scene that proves to be quite lucrative and entertaining for people on the streets.
Put simply, there are a lot of well-meaning suckers and enablers in this town.
Seven years of experience and lots of anecdotal stories is how I have arrived at this conclusion. Let me share a few.
I talked to plenty of EMTs over the years, and their frustrations are often palpable. One guy told me that on the umpteenth call for one of downtown’s most chronic alcoholics, they arrived to see a drunk college-aged girl literally stuffing money in this guy’s pocket as was sprawled on the sidewalk, unconscious. The EMT confessed to saying less than charitable things to this young woman about the timing and method of her charitable donation.
Another story I got from a bartender where my co-workers would have after-shifters now and then. We were talking about enabling, and she sheepishly described one Christmas when several patrons put on Santa caps and handed out pints of vodka to street people. Ho, ho, ho, gulp, gulp, gulp I guess.
The story I share most with people to persuade them to stop throwing money at people on the street is my own, and it helped me understand the dynamics at play, which is why I use it every chance I get.
It starts on a typical night downtown. I’m biking and it’s past the magical hour that delineates when someone can sleep on a sidewalk, and when they can’t. As I’m biking I see someone on the sidewalk and two police officers walking toward him, on foot patrol. I stop my bike and ask the officer I recognize (who also recognizes me from my work with people on the streets) if they would mind if I woke him up and sat him up so he could then be in compliance with our city’s enlightened ordinances.
Clearly not wanting to the be the uniformed officers required to do the unpleasant job of rousing a homeless man, they consent and let me be the one to do it, which is great because not having a uniform and knowing this guy pretty well makes the job much easier and less threatening, for him.
I end up sitting with this homeless man–who is old (though not as old as you would think)–for about an hour, and in that hour I watched, listened and learned.
I learned that in that brief span of time one kind person brought him a plate of nachos, not leftovers, but purchased just for him. A drunk guy who looked very bro-ish surprisingly didn’t verbally accost him, but instead gave him $20 bucks. A few minutes later, a woman, also intoxicated, gave him $4 dollars. Then another woman, even more intoxicated, gleefully exposed her breasts.
Food, money, entertainment. What’s not to like?
At this point in the story, whatever audience I was trying to persuade would generally be amused, and probably not deterred from enacting similar gestures of kindness to the less fortunate. Then I would explain what they didn’t see about this scenario that I discovered that night.
I first acknowledge that this guy slowly drinking himself to death is of course a sad case that stirs feelings of guilt and compassion, but what they don’t know is that street culture is very communal, so when they throw money at this broken-down alcoholic to buy alcohol, what they don’t see is the other people their charity enables, like the young Native guy who stops by later and pounds a few gulps from the vodka bottle–a kid I was almost positive had been part of a group of violent young men “rolling” other homeless people that particular summer downtown and along the river trail.
And they don’t see the next morning, before legal alcohol peddlers can start legally selling alcohol (8am), as this aging alcoholic is scrambling to find a place to take a shit, then hoping someone comes by to give him a pull before the shakes get too bad and he has a seizure.
I don’t expect people in this town to understand what’s happening on the streets, because they don’t have the experiences first responders and hospital staff and social workers have on the front lines. I do expect a blowhard like Greg Strandberg to better educate himself on an issue like this before ignorantly scapegoating a homeless shelter for problems our entire Missoula community is responsible for.
Ironically I do agree and will advocate for more law enforcement in Missoula, but not because a seasonal influx of obnoxious street kids blow through town every summer. We need more law enforcement because Missoula has grown significantly in the last 15 years and the ability of police to respond to the 300-400 calls coming in every day to 911 dispatch hasn’t kept pace in terms of personnel.
The problem, though, is the hope from downtown businesses that increasing the presence of police will solve the problem they have been complaining about year after year. This is one of those problems that is unrealistic to fix from purely a law enforcement perspective, especially with the jail always full and our gap-ridden mental health system and over-burdened criminal justice system the way it is.
So I’ll say it again, until the underlying problems are addressed, this issue won’t be policed away or hidden with better tailored ordinances.