Murder in Downtown Missoula Illustrates Homeless Plight


While hundreds of people gathered in front of Missoula City Council Chambers for Monday night’s meeting a local homeless man died only a block from all the commotion.  The Missoulian reports that police found a 46-year-old man behind 130 W. Broadway, the location of La Parrilla and Fed Ex, at around 7:10 in the evening.  An autopsy concluded that the man died from injuries sustained from an assault and police are ruling this a homicide.

Any death like this is a tragedy, but given the situation and timing of the incident the man’s death seems even more tragic to me.

The irony bound in a member of Missoula’s most vulnerable population being killed only blocks away from where our generation’s civil rights issue just got resolved is amazing.  No time for the assault has been published, but the police found the man in the alley just an hour after City Council started up and with so many eyes on the streets it seems implausible that this incident went unnoticed.  If you happened to be downtown last night attending the rallies and might have seen something please come forward.

Is the contradictory dichotomy of our community’s laws towards these two different populations apparent to anyone else?    Have people already forgotten last years debate over the pedestrian interference ordinance when the council legislated moving the transient population off of downtown sidewalks so that people could got about shopping in downtown without being harassed (I over simplify).  We tossed a group of people who only a very small fragment of our population really cares about aside and out of public view.  Now here we are, patting ourselves on our backs for passing the anti-discrimination ordinance and proclaiming we are the bastion of minority rights in Montana.  Does anyone else see the contradictions apparent in the two city council resolutions?  We protect one group of people while purposefully marginalizing another group of people who already live on the fringes of society.

A 2007 survey of Missoula found that 551 homeless people lived in Missoula and that number has surely grown in the intervening three years as the economic collapse took hold.  Hell, in the thirty minutes I’ve spent writing this in Break Espresso I’ve seen more than a dozen transients wander aimlessly by.  And for a marginalized population do we really want to be pushing them out of public view?  I’ve noticed recently that large groups of homeless congregate in downtown alleyways where they won’t be harassed by cops and be out of public view.  Is this situation somehow safer than having them on city streets where multiple eyes can act as a regulation on behavior?

This assault happened away from the prying eyes of the public even with a large crowd near by.  Homelessness will continue to be an issue that Missoula must deal with or ignore at its own peril, just as discrimination against minority populations will continue to be a social ill that refuses to disappear regardless of our Constitutional rights or local laws.

  1. You’re joking, right? You live in Montana and you think that homeless people are in danger there and that’s ironic? Prying eyes of the public? How about the blind leading the blind? Give it up, Einstein, there’s no hope.

  2. I think that the pedestrian interference ordinance was a tough call – certainly there may have been people who’s main goal was to indeed marginalize and push out homeless individuals, but city council did (I believe) have a real issue of public safety to deal with.

    And this wasn’t caused by Missoula’s regular homeless – it was an influx of out-of-towners as I understand it. I do know there were times when I was uncomfortable walking alone in certain side streets last summer.

    Ultimately, I don’t know how much the ordinance has affected what actually goes and went on…I think it gave the police the tools they need when the rare situation occurs.

    Didn’t they mollify the ordinance quite a bit after public input?

    • carfreestupidity

      But the local homeless will still be affected by the ordinance. And I’ve always spent a lot of time downtown and regularly pass through the alleys on my bike and have noticed a shift to the alleys over the last several months. I think we have to wait till this summer to see how exactly the pedestrian interference ordinance plays out.

    • Lizard

      from what i hear, the police haven’t been too overzealous with enforcement, and pretty much negative behavior is dealt with the way it usually is, whether it’s a drunk panhandler or a drunk college kid. i think the push to create this legislation came from the friction between businesses trying to protect their summer tourist retail sales and the influx of homeless “travelers” who come through town when the weather warms up.

      what really bothers me is how “the homeless problem” is constantly used as a scapegoat for why the great gentrified utopian vision for downtown has yet to materialize.

  3. luvubro

    IMHO- the homeless in Missoula are probably the most marginalized and discriminated against segment of our community. Bar patrons blocking the sidewalk smoking outside of bars get a free pass on pedestrian interference, but the homeless will be hassled by the cops and the BID ambassadors on a daily basis.
    I pose the following questions:
    Has the pedestrian interference law created a more volatile us vs. them atmosphere on the streets of Missoula in respect to the housed vs. homeless citizen?
    Did the shift in focus to the zoning rewrite result in the Office of planning and grants taking it’s eye off the ball in respect to City/County oversight in regards to coordination of service provision to the marginalized and poor?
    Will the Missoulian editorial board weigh in on Missoula’s homeless issues?

    • carfreestupidity

      I doubt that OPG is the governmental body to deal with the issue of homelessness.

      • luvubro

        I don’t know? They are the pass though for a lot of the grant money and they oversee the at risk housing coalition.

        • carfreestupidity

          Yes… pass through money. But you can’t really get at this issue with affordable housing. Health services, substance abuse programs, and employment services seems to be an important component along with VA programs given that about 30% of the homeless suffer from mental illness, 20% are veterans, and according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 38% suffer alcohol abuse and 26% drug abuse.

          Its a mix of issues dealing with the core of why people are homeless in the first place that a single city/county agency really can’t fully address.

  4. carfreestupidity

    Whats ironic is that we just passed a law to protect the rights of the LBGT community and we did essentially the opposite of that last year to the homeless population. The fact that the homeless are in danger isn’t ironic at all, the nature of how they live is inherently dangerous. Sleeping outside when its below zero is sad and something no one should have to endure but it is something that many homeless in Missoula experience.

    Jhwgirl… City Council did their best to modify the pedestrian interference ordinance to soften the blow and there certainly was a lot of public debate, but in the end the philosophical heart of the ordinance marginalized the homeless further. It certainly raised safety for many in downtown, I see a lot more officers on foot in downtown after the ordinance, but we still have homeless that have to go somewhere and the Poverello Center and other organizations can only do so much.

    • Lizard

      the poverello center can do more, and will hopefully be able to do more in a new facility. but there are people who equate the small percentage of “chronic” homeless with the diverse population the poverello center serves every day, and will fight any effort to improve services to “those people.”

  5. Big Swede

    Still, another reason to get out of Dodge.

  6. taxpayingcitizen

    I fail to see why the homeless should be coddled. Panhandling and bumming off of tax-paying, hardworking citizens should not in any way be supported. Period. There are enough organizations in Missoula and in our country to help get them jobs and get them off of the streets if they really had the desire to do it. Lets concentrate on fixing the root of the problem -HOMELESSNESS- and get them off of our streets instead of worrying about how to keep them safe on them.

    • Lizard

      this comment is a good example of the level of ignorance that exists out there.

      the panhandling, chronic homeless are a small percentage of the diverse spectrum of people who live without housing security.

      on a side note, those taxes this ignorant citizen pays goes directly to the wars that impoverishes this entire country and creates some of the broken people you see drunk on the streets asking for change.

  7. problembear

    “I fail to see…”

    that is obvious. but perhaps in the afterlife, someone will open your eyes.

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful and interesting discourse.

    Lizard is absolutely right.

    The Pov’s Ryman Street shelter is operating beyond capacity and in violation of federal law and fire code. The organization as a whole has the skills, capacity, and experience to dramatically improve the lives of many of the “undesirable” individuals referenced above. They are simply limited by that 100 year old facility.

    There ain’t no more room at the inn, so the Pov turns away folks in need to accommodate others in need. It’s less than ideal, and frankly not right.

    Missoula will need to come up with solutions to serve this community’s poor, as soon as this winter, or these tragedies will continue to occur.

    By the way, Billings has more homeless people than Missoula. The feds count the homeless once a year. HUD tells urban planners to expect a need for public facilities– for the poor and homeless– to be able to serve a little less than 1% of the community’s overall population. Contrary to popular belief, Missoula does not have a higher proportion of homeless individuals and families than other cities its size… Missoula just does not offer appropriate public facilities to serve their needs.

    • JC

      Does the Pov have a strategic plan to improve its facilities and services? I know that in the past there was some discussion about location and a new facility, but I haven’t heard anything about that for a while.

      You say that “Missoula will need to come up with solutions.” How do we give that process a kick start?

    • Fantasmagorical

      Is the Poverello a private or a publicly owned organization?

      When you say, “Missoula just does not offer appropriate public facilities” are you suggesting that City/County government should fund the Poverello, or are you suggesting they should build a publicly funded and owned facility?

      What is the connection between the Poverello’s building/space needs, and the murder of the person in the alley behind the Kinko’s?

      • JC

        Is the Poverello a private or a publicly owned organization?

        It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It’s a community resource.

        When you say, “Missoula just does not offer appropriate public facilities” are you suggesting that City/County government should fund the Poverello, or are you suggesting they should build a publicly funded and owned facility

        I’m not going to speak for Ellie here, but yes, the city/county should (and does) help fund/support the Pov operations, and yes they should help fund a new facility. The facility would most likely be owned by the 501(c)(3) and thus be a public resource.

        What is the connection between the Poverello’s building/space needs, and the murder of the person in the alley behind the Kinko’s?

        Without knowing any details of the person who was murdered, the scene was just a few blocks from the Pov. The Pov is horribly overcrowded, and many people camp in the vicinity in order to make use of its and other downtown services.

        The need for a safe place for homeless people to exist during hours when they are not in the Pov is huge. Homeless people are at greater risk for crime when they have no safe place to be. Alleys are notoriously unsafe in downtown Missoula.

        Add it up, and you’ll get a good sense of Ellie’s statement.

  9. Fantasmagorical,

    Great question.

    The Poverello Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and it is both publicly and privately funded. It is considered a “public facility” under an array of definitions.

    For example, under one HUD definition, public facilities can include: water and sewer system improvements, transitional housing and homeless shelters, sidewalks, handicapped access, and neighborhood or community centers that provide public services to low and moderate income people.

    Due to confidentiality of clients, I cannot speak to the ongoing investigation surrounding the murder of a local homeless man, but our staff knew the victim well.

    Please feel free to call or email me if you would like a tour and a more thorough explanation of the Pov’s overcrowding issues and how they directly affect downtown.

    Best, El

    • Jess Wandering

      Did you know the alleged perpetrators as well? Belmarez and BigBeaver? Did they frequent any of the shelters or services?

      Missoula Council has every right to “pat themselves on the back” for their anti discrimination ordinance, without the slightest reference to or guilt from the crime mentioned here.

      The crime, and the justly celebrated ordinance, are not related.

  10. Lizard

    There is breaking news on this case; one person in custody, another person charged. the first comment on the missoulian’s site : “thank you poverello center for bringing these charming people to our community.”

    i am so goddamn tired of ignorant assholes blaming the pov for the transients downtown. it’s you, missoulians, giving them money. it’s grizzly liquor selling them vodka. city council passed ordinances, and it’s the cops responsibility to enforce it.

    it doesn’t matter if you tell people they (transients) are only marginally served by the pov. it doesn’t matter if you explain how many non-transients are helped everyday by their (the pov) services.

    nope, the pov is the problem. it needs to be torched and we need to run “the homeless” out of town. who cares if this country can’t take care of its vets, can’t address health care, can’t stop wall street from screwing us, and imprisons more people than any other country. no, it’s the pov. fuck the pov. burn it down.


    • JC

      Um… let’s not equate “transients” with “homeless.” Many people the Pov serves are Missoulians. Some of them born and raised here.

      But then, you know that…

      I feel your rage.

    • Your voice is important.

      “assholes” is putting it nicely.

    • People will not stop equating the Pov with the worst of society because of one factor: fear.

      People are afraid of homeless/transients. In fiction they are depicted unapologetically as the killers lurking around corners. But that is not where the fear comes from. People fear them because as the economy recovers for the top 1 percent, the rest of us are increasingly afraid of becoming one of “those people.”

      And it’s sad. Some of the best people I’ve ever met are homeless. And some of the biggest bastards I’ve known have oil company stock.

      • And while over here we lament this tragedy, things are already becoming rather silly (and not in a good Python-esque way) over at the Missoulian:

        • problembear

          i can’t stand the comment system over at the missoulian anymore so i will just support you here.

          our nation’s homeless situation grows worse by the day; many are families. most are single men from teens to seventies and eighties. veterans, medically bankrupt, foreclosure victims. many are sucked dry and cast aside by predatory lenders.

          whatever the reason, sending the problem down the road is no real answer to the problem and it is certainly not the mission of the poverello started by sister anne, to judge why people are here. they are in trouble and we help them because we are a caring community who helps those less fortunate than ourselves.

          the argument that we should turn our backs on the problem is just not an option for any decent human being, regardless of background.

          if more people took the words of st francis of assissi to heart they would live happier lives free of hatred and fear;

          For it is in giving that we receive.

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