Op-Ed: Missoula’s Homelessness Solutions Will Fail Without a Foundation

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As the epidemic of homelessness rages throughout Missoula, confounding politicians and mental health professionals, there are a bevy of conflicting opinions on what the best course of action is, with most people simply wanting to know: ‘what on earth do we do with all these homeless folks?” The sentiments and reactions are as different as day and night.

With the specter of becoming another Portland or Seattle at the forefront of their minds, some of the proposed solutions range from leaving things as they are, criminalizing homelessness, giving the homeless a one-way bus ticket to different cities or even out of state, or opening large camping grounds and tent cities within Missoula where they can congregate legally.

Making things more complicated, many believe Missoula is being seen as a dumping ground for the homeless and want that rectified, with county Chief Administrative Officer Chris Lounsbury explaining:

“There was strong belief that by providing services, Missoula attracts more homeless people and many communities, but especially Bozeman, bus people to Missoula because of the services provided…there was strong agreement that transients should be bused out of Missoula, and that Missoula should reduce the number of services provided and existing laws should be enforced, including the arrest of people who are homeless.”

Ultimately, the County Commissioners have directed county staff to start exploring the costs of several options, such as building temporary shelters, running utilities, hiring guards, tasking clean-up crews, and a host of other expenses associated with the following three proposals, which seem to be the favored courses of action.

  • Rather than allowing the homeless to camp underneath the Reserve Street Bridge, sanctioning a large outdoor campground where they can set up a ‘tent city’ under the watchful guise of the county, right Behind the Super Walmart off Clark Fork Lane.
  • Similar to the second, finding a space where more permanent structures can be erected, (such as rigid tends or hard-sided structures) which would include sanitary services like toilets and sinks, and possibly even mobile showers, with a location near the jail being considered a prime location.
  • Converting the Sleepy Inn Motel into temporarily transitional housing. This would give anyone who cannot find a place to live the ability to use a voucher to access a room. The city had previously purchased the motel for over a million dollars last year and it has been used as a COVID shelter since then.

While some may find some of all of these to be acceptable or at least bearable options, the reality is none of these ideas/proposals are spot on.

Homelessness is about far more than just feeling “safe and secure” due to a positive change in the environment, but rather the truth is that most homeless people are either alcoholics, drug addicts, or suffering from mental illness. For the former, their addictions frequently stem from sexual abuse as children.

Peggy Christensen ran A Ray of Hope homeless shelter in Kalispell for over 20 years until her passing a few years ago. The transformation was miraculous as she took in the folks that in her words “no one else wanted.” Christensen also raised 32 foster children during her life and revealed that most homelessness stems from sexual abuse as children, which creates feelings and emotions of worthlessness. She claimed that approximately 85% of the homeless which she counseled were victims from a young age of the atrocities of abuse.

A Ray of Hope has not to this day received one dime of government funding, and it is highly successful at fighting homelessness. Most donors are Christians who know their dollars will go toward lives steeped in accountability, training, and purpose. The inhabitants receive true Biblical counseling and their success rate is a testament to their faith-based methodology.

A purely secular approach to homelessness will not solve the problem, particularity when it accompanies unbiblical ideologies. This is why a large part of Christensen’s success was based on the biblical principle that “If a man does not work, he shall not eat.”

This is very contrary to the Mayor of Missoula and County Commissioners’ concept of what it means to conquer homelessness.

Throwing government money at this issue is like curing cancer with a band-aid. More “programs” create more dependence, which creates the need for more programs, which creates the need for more dependence, and it never ends. If the goal is to guide homeless people into achieving independence and then becoming a true asset to the community in return, there must be a day-to-day system of accountability and the core issues must be addressed.

Missoula needs to bring all the conservative-minded true Bible-believing churches together and come up with a plan. A long-term set of goals. It takes a large team of committed followers of Christ to tackle the homeless population. And when churches see a definitive set of goals and plans towards these ends, they will gladly donate to the cause.

A Ray of Hope is proof that this works. Over the past 20 years, they have received monthly support from many churches and Christians who see the transformations in people’s lives over time. Prayer, Bible reading and study, have delivered a multitude of homeless people from the streets who’ve been transformed into productive, busy, prosperous individuals who in turn give back to the community.

Unlike Peggy Christensen, Missoula Mayor John Engen doesn’t have a great track record. It is time for some new blood and new ideas that reflect accountability of the homeless, and a high amount of structure and training.

They can build whatever they think they want to house the homeless in Missoula, but without the right foundation and the right view of mankind it will fail.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24-25

The Rock is Christ. Build the homeless a shelter on HIM, and it will succeed.




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