A few weeks ago, RD’s main author appeared on KGVO Newstalk AM radio to talk about the homeless people in Missoula.
A few days later he put up a post, one that asked some tough questions, like...what are we going to do with the homeless come winter? What are we going to do when this new mobile crisis unit is overwhelmed?
It’s a good question, because right now we know the city is pressuring the state to get rid of the homeless camp below the Reserve Street Bridge by threatening to fine them for each week it’s still there into November.
That’s in 45 days.
I personally believe this is yet another indication of how desperate for money Missoula is, but that’s a story for another day.
On top of the soon-to-be-vacated camp (?), the local homeless shelter - the Pov - is at seriously reduced capacity due to coronavirus fears...fears which are well-founded since there have been outbreaks at the shelter before, one of which required state national guard troops to come in and staff the place for a few days just 30 days ago.
So we have an issue here.
What are we going to do about it?
I think we have three options, two of which Missoula is currently engaged in:
- First, we do nothing and allow the current homeless camp to remain intact and the reduced-capacity homeless shelter to overflow into its parking lot each night. (The Salvation Army? Don't make me laugh)
- Second, we buy a hotel and use it to house the most sick and vulnerable of the homeless.
- Third, we set up a tent city.
Missoula is doing the first two, but I suggest we also do the third (hopefully ameliorating the need for the second entirely, and perhaps in the long-term, the first).
In Santa Clara County the local officials are trying to secure $19 million in CARES Act funding to buy up two hotels and refurbish their 106 rooms.
That comes out to $180,000 a room (average housing cost of $800,000 there).
Another option is also in California, this time in Inyo County.
There, in the town of Bishop, an old and abandoned Kmart parking lot was converted into a homeless area, for people that want to sleep in their cars or for those that want to pitch a tent.
Portable bathrooms and dumpsters were provided for these people, which did much to cut down on the waste.
I dunno, but I bet it was minimal. This county had a problem, knew it couldn’t rely on a flimsy promise from the feds about money that might come some day, so they did what they could with the resources they had.
Why are both of these counties embarking on these homeless initiatives? Because way back on March 19, Governor Newsom put forth an executive order requiring each and every county to provide some kind of suitable shelter for the state’s homeless.
Did he provide funding?
No. Why should he? You'll pay for his state's problems with your federal taxes via the CARES Act. He ain't stupid.
It’s estimated that there are 151,000 homeless people in California, a state of 39.5 million (Montana had about 1,300 homeless people last January).
Missoula should follow the example of Inyo County.
And it’s not so far-fetched. After all, the idea of using VA parking lots as homeless tent encampments was floated back in May under one of the coronavirus relief bills (the VA agrees that $300 million is a good amount for them to deal with the national homeless vet problem).
We have numerous ‘empty spaces’ in town that could be put to better use as a homeless area than what we currently have under the bridge.
What are these spaces?
Some off the top of my mind are the unused parking area around the Fox Club; the fields behind Bob Wards (which already have homeless tents in them); the still-unused old Shopko parking lot; and of course the hundreds of empty spaces in the mall parking lot.
The latter is the best bet in terms of providing services; keeping Missoula clean. And oh, the benefits!
- If we used some of the excess and empty parking at the mall, we could provide portable toilets and dumpsters, reducing the amount of trash and human waste that enters our ‘prized’ river.
- The city and the county and the state could stop bickering over jurisdictions with the current homeless camp.
- Police could better patrol the area, allowing those homeless families that sleep in their car to actually feel safe as they try to protect their kids before showing up to their 9-to-5’s in the morning...jobs they keep in the hope-against-hope that one day, maybe, they might be able to call an apartment their own.
Of course, none of these things will ever happen here in Missoula.
The private-equity mall owners would balk at such an idea, or any other business parking lot...even something abandoned.
And the city/county sure isn’t going to forego all the ‘fine’ money they expect to rake-in come November when they finally ‘lay down the law.’ It wouldn't be profitable.
As usual, those that lose will be the most vulnerable and the most forgotten. They’ve lost so much already - their homes, their possessions, and in many cases their minds.
They’ve lost all they have, really...perhaps all they’ll ever have.
Missoula could do better, but when you peel-back the gilded layer of non-profit support and community volunteers, you find that much of it is a dog and pony show, an illusion to make the idle-rich and lazy-well-off feel just a little bit better about themselves as they go to sleep in those soft satin sheets in that big house on the hill.
Us and Them.
Remember, we’re all in this together.