Archive for July 22nd, 2010

By JC

Seems that Missoula Councilor Bob Jaffe let loose his true feelings in a post to his listserve yesterday. I guess it’s time for our annual bash the homeless prattle from town hall, now that Missoula is at it’s seasonal height for transient migration, coupled with a burgeoning local homeless population including far too many Missoula families.

So I thought I’d poke my nose in Jaffe’s business and bring to light what he really thinks about Missoula’s less fortunate. Here’s the relevant part of his post for your reading [dis]pleasure. Feel free to leave your comments about homelessness in Missoula, and the way our public servants think and talk about it:

“Next we had a presentation in Public Safety regarding our new full time downtown officer. Her name is Nicole Pifari and she has decided to leave the police force to go to law school. The plan is that she will continue to work for the force during the summers while she is in school. She has been at it for about six weeks now and the response from downtown business owners and patrons has been extremely positive. Assigning an officer to this beat full time creates continuity. She sees the same folks over and over and gets to know what’s going on.

The presentation was from Assistant Chief Brady and BID director Rod Austin. I wanted to hear what Officer Pifari had to say so I asked her up to come up and answer some questions. She had a few comments that I thought were important. She clarified that the work was primarily about dealing with the homeless population. She was clear that her job is not about solving homelessness or vagrancy. It is about keeping it out of downtown. She lets the folks know they need to find a more socially acceptable place to throw up and piss themselves. She knows that Missoula is a very friendly and empathetic place. Her job is to make it a little less friendly and comfortable for the least among us.

I had the impression she was fully aware of the unfortunate and tragic nature of this assignment. We have a very friendly and accepting community and a population of destitute people who survive by manipulating and taking advantage of this kindness. There is a critical mass or threshold that gets crossed and then the community starts to feel victimized. Our response is to dial down the love these folks feel when they come to Missoula. This is Nicole’s job.

On the up side, she provides the rest of us with a sense of security, safety and order. In general, the odds that a shopper will suffer any actual harm from a homeless person is incredibly small. But the perception of danger is real. An officer in uniform creates a perception of safety. Folks love it. Her presence is a huge benefit to the health and future of our downtown. I got the feeling that she had the perfect disposition to serve the community in this role. Hopefully the plans to retain her during the summers will pan out.

Jon Wilkins also pointed out that we can’t just arrest these folks because our judge just lets them go free. He wants to see them go to jail and be given an orange jump suit and be put to work picking up trash along the highway. I’m actually intrigued by the idea of instituting a chain gang in Missoula. Nothing wrong with a little community service and clearly these folks aren’t concerned with being humiliated in public. We would need to find a big tobacco chewing officer with a shotgun to oversee the crew to get the full effect. I think the word would get out pretty quick that maybe Missoula isn’t the best place to be sprawled out on the sidewalk. There is a major issue with funding and liability. One of the reasons we don’t put transients in jail is they have all sorts of medical problems that become our responsibility once they are incarcerated. I can’t imagine what would happen if we actually made them perform physical labor. If we could come up with a funding mechanism I would be curious if we could try this. I’m wondering if anyone north of Texas has attempted it and whether folks would be horrified or happy the trash was being picked up.”

P.S., hat tip to Duganz and lizard for bringing this topic up today on another blog post




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