by William Skink
Mayor John Engen decided to write an open letter to the Missoula community to explain that his recent absence from office was due to receiving treatment for alcoholism. Here is a portion of that letter:
Not everyone believes addiction is a disease. Given what I know now, I do. And I don’t expect everyone to forgive me or understand me in the wake of telling my story. But the story is mine, it’s true, and it won’t change. What can change is that I can do everything I can every day to stay sober, to be my best self.
I want to be your mayor for another term and will run for re-election in 2017. Only a serious, sober me can do that. And you deserve the serious, sober me you’ve elected in the past.
If you have an addiction problem, there is hope. Please seek help. And know that you will find support.
I’m happy that the Mayor was able to receive treatment for his disease, but not everyone enjoys the same access to treatment that the Mayor has. If you don’t have good insurance, or tens of thousands of dollars to afford treatment, then there is a good chance you won’t find the support you need.
I was talking with someone from the recovery community recently about this very topic, and here is the harsh reality: Missoula’s in-patient treatment program only has 2 beds that will accept Medicaid, and according to this person, the wait list is between 4-6 months.
This community has been struggling for years to address the significant gaps that still exist when it comes to accessing treatment for addictions. It’s one of the main factors fueling the jail overcrowding crisis, not to mention a major stumbling bloc in providing the tools to address chronic homelessness.
Another Missoula Current piece profiles the Poverello’s new Director, reporting that one of the shelter’s main focus is going to be chronic homelessness. From the link:
While the Poverello’s Board of Directors explores the future, Allison Thompson comes to the job with her own goals. Foremost among them, she hopes to address chronic homelessness and the underlying factors that make it so difficult to resolve.
That includes so-call “wet housing,” a term that has fallen out of favor with the city, though the goal remains the same. While the Poverello serves a long list of clients, it cannot serve those who’ve been drinking. Yet with addiction standing as one of the leading factors in chronic homelessness, not addressing it it leaves a gap in the system — and in any cure.
“I think the city needs to start looking at how we serve people who aren’t allowed to stay at the Poverello Center.” Allison Thompson said. “That’s a real gap in our services, and it’s something I’m concerned about.”
The part of this quote that stands out to me is that the term “wet housing” has “fallen out of favor with the city”. Why the hell is that? It’s one of the main recommendations of Missoula’s 10 year plan to end homelessness, so if a wet housing program is no longer favored by the city, I sure would like to know why that’s the case. If the city doesn’t support wet housing, it should be Mayor Engen who explains why.
Unfortunately, I don’t see Engen’s letter as an honest announcement to inform his constituents of his struggle with alcohol abuse. I see a politician getting ahead of bad publicity to control the message so he can win another term as Mayor.
I think the Mayor needs a longer break than a month from the stress of gentrifying our Missoula metropolis. His administration has ignored gaps in services for years while schmoozing with developers to transform the skyline and fill the valley with out-of-state transplants who can actually afford the skyrocketing cost of housing amidst stagnating wages.
Someone with a different vision for Missoula needs to challenge the Mayor to give him the extended break I think he needs. Engen has had nearly a decade to lead this town. It’s time for different leadership.