Those of us behind the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space believe that this short-term, federally funded project on private land can improve our community, by giving up to 40 homeless people a safe, legal alternative other than sleeping in their cars or camping in our neighborhoods, with no resources whatsoever. We believe this space has the potential to reduce demand on our emergency service providers, our health care system, our law enforcement.
We know we face plenty of opposition. Those of us who work on homelessness are accustomed to being criticized; to being called naïve, stupid and even worse. We are accustomed to being told we are ruining our community.
But we also know that this is the right thing — the safer, healthier thing — not only for the unhoused people who will have access to the space during this cold COVID winter, but for our community.
People are also reading…
To those who oppose this project: We get it. You’re good people who care about and do a lot for your community. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. We know you’re angry and frustrated. We have that in common with you. Because we're angry and frustrated, too.
You’re angry and frustrated because there are homeless people in your neighborhoods and businesses. We’re angry and frustrated about that, too, and about that fact that despite decades of work and billions of dollars, our country has yet to make a dent in ending homelessness.
Missoula has made more strides than many other places, in terms of public-sector support and heroic work by nonprofits to move beyond treating shelter as the answer to homelessness and working on housing solutions.
We’re not going to Poverello Center or United Way or Hope Rescue Mission our way to the end of homelessness, or by putting people up for temporary stays in cheap motels. The answer to homelessness is housing. And there is no “one size fits all,” easy, cheap approach to housing — just like there is no “the homeless.”
We’re frustrated by stereotypes about homelessness, because, like all stereotypes, they’re inaccurate. And yet they persist, along with stories about homeless people being bused here or flocking here from other cities because we have programs to help, or that Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness is a joke. Those stories may be popular in some circles, but they’re not factual.
And we’re angry and frustrated that we’ve been accused of wasting money on programs that don’t work — “just throwing money away” — when the facts are that too little money has been invested in programs that do work to end homelessness.
So, we feel your anger. And we understand it. Because we feel it, too.
And whether we’re either hosting or hating short-term solutions like the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, until everyone moves beyond their anger, we’re going to be stuck in the same cycle we’ve been in for decades: cobbling together underfunded emergency projects instead of working on finding appropriate, sustainable homes for our very diverse population of people experiencing homelessness. That’s just a fact. We want to move from fixing blame to fixing problems; to translate our anger and frustration — and frankly, our sadness — into finding permanent housing solutions for everyone in need. Even the ones we don’t like and the ones who don’t like us.
United Way, Hope Rescue Mission and our partners are committed to the success of this project. We know it’s a temporary solution. We also continue to work every day on permanent solutions — the kind that can make homelessness in Missoula rare, brief and one-time-only. We invite you to join us.
5 memorable opinions from 2020
In a year of strong opinions, these letters and guest columns stood out on the Missoulian's Opinion page.
Readers had a lot to say about the Missoula Osprey's decision to rebrand and change the team name to PaddleHeads. The letters started pouring …
Shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, this former refugee from Liberia and U.S. Marine veteran shared his own experiences grow…
The 2020 elections were the most heated and contentious yet, judging by the sheer volume of election-related commentary. Most of those were st…
A longtime - and well-known - Missoula couple provided their own account of homelessness in support of new efforts to house and care for our n…