What You Are Not Hearing About the Homeless Problem Downtown

by William Skink

Spring is blanketing the valley with new growth (by growth I mean green and colorful things that grow, not banks and hotels). Easter has come, and gone, and the days are getting longer. Which means…

It’s time for Missoula’s annual complain-about-homeless-people-downtown discussion.

This year’s discussion happened at the state of the downtown luncheon, held at the Public House. You can read about it at this corporate rag, or you can read about here, at Missoula Current.

Before I got burned out and had to walk away, I was very involved in this discussion. And I do think there have been improvements in some areas. But there is a part of this story that is not being told, and it’s a significant barrier to improving the behavior of a VERY SMALL group of trouble makers.

As a member of the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Commission, I was involved in doing some outreach with retailers that sold products like Steel Reserve and Colt 45. The idea was to see if there was any willingness among these retailers to consider a voluntary removal of certain products from single sale. Not a ban of cheap booze, but a minimal, voluntary effort to slightly reduce access to the type of booze the fuels so much of the problems downtown.

There was some willingness among retailers, but Tim France was not one of them. And that was too bad, because as the owner of Wordens and chair of the Business Improvement District, his decision carries weight, and that was that.

The failure of that effort was a contributing factor in my decision to stop jeopardizing my personal safety for booze peddlers who refuse to acknowledge their contribution to the problem downtown.

So when I read things like this:

Several downtown business owners, including Five on Black owner Tom Snyder, also expressed frustration over aggressive scofflaws, saying their storefronts have been urinated on and some downtown visitors remain fearful when approached by intoxicated panhandlers.

I wonder why Tom Snyder doesn’t follow that urine upstream and ask Tim France why he continues selling nasty, gut-rot booze only people with alcohol problems consume.

My suggestion to Tom Snyder and other concerned business people downtown is this: support an ordinance that restricts the sale of the alcohol products everyone close to this issue knows is a significant part of the problem.

I don’t think there would be much support for that approach, so downtown businesses should just prepare themselves for another season of dealing with our community’s chronic inability to understand this problem, and act accordingly.

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About William Skink

I'm a poet and political cynic living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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