Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Westside story

Posted on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Dan Brooks just wrote the manual on being too clever by half in last week's opinion piece (see "Inventing solutions," Aug. 29).

It always smarts to be mocked and when you're the object of ridicule from someone with the writing chops of Mr. Brooks, it's hard not to defensively fire off ad hominem attacks. So I'll first acknowledge what is right in what he wrote—the retroactive aspect of the ordinance is a murky-at-best way to respond to a relocation decision that displeases neighbors.

The rest, unfortunately, is straw man stuff. Mr. Brooks characterizes opposition of the Union Gospel Mission's relocation as a petty, selfish desire to whisk away the inconvenience of seeing the homeless. He so poorly captures the sentiments of westsiders like myself that I wonder if he's actually listened to anyone who has spoken up about it.

I'm hoping he might listen to me.

Three-fourths of the children my kids go to school with are at or below the poverty level. They play at our house. Their parents, living paycheck to paycheck, move all the time. I go down the street and I walk by trailer courts and middle class houses and low-rent apartments and nod at people who just got off the Greyhound as we pass on the sidewalk. Most of my neighbors are poor.

I like living here. I'm reminded on a daily basis that so many people have it way worse than me. That my sons are lucky that they haven't had to move three, four, five times in a year. We know, better than probably any other part of town, how poverty impacts the lives of Missoula.

And here is where it gets complicated and where Mr. Brooks' rhetorical savvy stings with the two-pronged sword of condescension and trivialization. I also see on a daily basis five "discount" motels, the YWCA, three thrift stores, HomeWORD, two tattoo parlors, Missoula Youth Homes, a liquor store and casino, and of course the "coming attraction" of the Poverello and the Union Gospel Mission.

Stay with me now. I don't object to the location or merit of any one of those establishments individually. But when you look at it combined and as a whole and you see that it's the southern border of a neighborhood with all of the issues described above, it seems reasonable to me that some of us wonder why so much of Missoula's economic strife is consigned to such a narrow part of town.

We have little to no say in what goes where in our neighborhood. The ordinance is, at best, an imperfect way of dealing with the subject. But I support it because I think we should at least have a public forum to talk about not just what homeless services should be and how they should function, but where they should happen. And call me crazy, but it would be nice if this issue could lead the city to talk about that section of West Broadway in a way that addresses the symptom and the disease. Then maybe we won't need Mr. Brooks' cute invention after all.

Greg Martin


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