How to Survive a Plague (of Transients)
I finally watched the documentary How to Survive a Plague. Wow. If you want to know what focused, relentless, informed direct action can accomplish, please watch it if you haven’t already.
The director, David France, pulls off an incredibly balanced look at the passion/policy dynamics that ultimately splintered the policy-driven Treatment Action Group from ACT UP. Despite the inevitable infighting, the success came from working both fronts: bodies in the streets and appeals from insider podiums, flipping the brain-trust stashed away in the endless little compartments of bureaucracy.
I’m going to try and keep that successful model in mind as I read about (in the Missoulian, of course) the transient epidemic plaguing the streets and wooded areas of Missoula. When these transients aren’t engaging in statutory rape under bridges and fighting over pork chops, they’re leading law enforcement on 120 mph car chases.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say these transients are like the HIV virus. What are people anyway? Big, hot messes of cells, and those cells can be infected by viruses, so the question becomes this: how can we keep our healthy Missoulian cells safe from infected transient cells?
Well, if streets and sidewalks are like veins, where cells flow, then there are policies being discussed that would enhance policies already implemented that aren’t apparently effective in curing downtown from these panhandling, pedestrian interfering transients.
The Indy reported on this latest policy discussion last month in this piece by Jessica Mayrer. It’s an exciting article that has both a picture of a transient, and a lead-in story of a cane-wielding transient that goes something like this:
Ten months ago, a transient wielding a cane chased Jenna Smith from her Higgins Avenue clothing store to her car, which was parked in a lot between Pine and Broadway. Smith was eight months pregnant and terrified.
“I was able to get to my car,” she says. “He was banging his cane on my car.”
Smith owns Cloth and Crown, a women’s clothing boutique. After the incident last winter, she filed a police report and bought pepper spray for all of her employees. The additional precautions help assure the safety of Smith and her staff, but they don’t alleviate an increasing number of recent problems stemming from illegal and unsavory behavior among transients downtown.
Besides being kind of like viruses, transients are also kind of like zombies. I’m sure it has nothing to do alcohol, which does shit like this on an annual basis:
Based on the analyses of 100 individual country profiles, The World Health Organization (WHO) has released The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health focused on analyzing available evidence on alcohol consumption, consequences and policy interventions at global, regional and national levels.
The harmful use of alcohol is a global problem which compromises both individual and social development. It causes harm far beyond the physical and psychological health of the drinker, including the harm to the well-being and health of people around the drinker. Alcohol is associated with many serious social and developmental issues, including violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism in the workplace.
The harmful use of alcohol (defined as excessive use to the point that it causes damage to health) has many implications on public health as demonstrated in the following key findings:
• Harmful use of alcohol results in the death of 2.5 million people annually, causes illness and injury to millions more, and increasingly affects younger generations and drinkers in developing countries.
• Nearly 4% of all deaths are related to alcohol. Most alcohol-related deaths are caused by alcohol result from injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver cirrhosis.
Dealing with the core issues fueling the transient epidemic? Sounds expensive. And after a summer exacerbated by dirty Rainbows, how about we craft something to deal with physical proximity of the infected cells to healthy cells, in the specific area where the infection festers, downtown. Like this:
According to counts conducted by Missoula Downtown Ambassadors, the city’s urban core hosted more panhandlers this year than at any time since 2010. Law enforcement and city officials attribute the influx in part to this summer’s Rainbow Gathering held outside Jackson. The gathering drew nearly 10,000 people, a portion of whom stayed in Missoula before and after the event.
Smith isn’t so much worried about how the transients landed on her doorstep, but rather how to curb their troublesome behavior. That’s why she supports a proposal unveiled during an Oct. 1 meeting of Mayor John Engen’s Downtown Advisory Commission that aims to further limit loitering and panhandling in the city’s urban core. Specifically, the proposal seeks to ban sitting, sleeping or lying on downtown sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Don’t worry, healthy Missoula cells, I’m sure if you do it no one will mind.