How Many Pumpkins Does It Take To Disappear a Homeless Camper From Cedar Street?

Cedar Street homeless encampment. Credit: Travis Mateer.

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It started off as a tip from a trusted source: to motivate homeless individuals to vacate the rapidly growing Cedar Street homeless encampment that popped up over the last month, the adjacent Poverello Center provided the homeless with $100 gift cards. When word of this transactional agreement leaked to the official residents of the Poverello Center, additional gift cards were distributed.  

How is one to proceed with this information?  Considering that the Mayor’s office was so hands-on with the clearing of the Cedar Street encampment, I thought City Hall would be a good place to start with questions. To exemplify the hands-on nature of our 4-term Mayor, here is an excerpt from KGVO’s September 28th article quoting Mayor Engen on the resettlement:

“We, of course like everyone, began seeing the ad-hoc campsite set up on Cedar Street over the course of the last week and a half or so, and we began working with the Poverello Center, city staff and crews and other partners to both collaboratively recognize that we’re not in the business of promoting or allowing these ad-hoc sites to exist,” said Mayor Engen.

Cedar Street Homeless Camp Removed by City and Poverello Center. KVGO. September 28, 2021.
Cedar Street homeless encampment. September 28, 2021. Photo: Travis Mateer.

The person I spoke with at the Mayor’s office directed me to inquire with the Poverello Center regarding the gift card “program” as they characterized it.  Hearing that word “program,” I asked if the Mayor’s Office was confirming the existence of an official program used by homeless individuals occupying Cedar Street.  She, again, directed me to the Poverello Center for answers.

I called the Poverello Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to casually see if any gift cards were left. The hotline directed me to Poverello Director of Development and Advocacy Jesse Jaeger, so I called the main line and left a message with his office.

After leaving a message stating that I was trying to confirm the existence of a FIRST and SECOND round of alleged hundred dollar gift cards being paid out to homeless individuals (in order to relocate the public health threat of unsheltered individuals who cannot toilet properly) I was driving down Broadway when it hit me. I pulled into the parking lot of the Fresh Market just up the street from the Poverello.

This is where it helps having contacts from my 7 years working at the Poverello Center from the Summer of 2008 to the Spring of 2016. When I walked into the Fresh Market, the manager who I spoke with was someone I remembered from my time doing triage in the neighborhood to mitigate the impacts of the Poverello’s existence on West Broadway.  

And because I kicked-ass at my job, the man remembered me and happily confirmed the existence of the hundred dollar gift cards coming into the grocery store via the relocation effort Mayor Engen was on KGVO doing damage control over.

Now that I had confirmation of the gift cards, how could I proceed?  Thinking back on the last week of conversation with my significant other about how my citizen-journalist gig is not producing anything close to a steady income, I mulled over writing something up for this blog, Missoula County Tyranny.  

The proprietor of the site, Roy McKenzie, is someone I have had the pleasure of speaking with on several occasions, and I already had a standing offer from his publication to submit a piece of writing for consideration.  My first inclination was to pitch the piece for a cool Benjamin.  

How symbolic would it be, I thought to myself, to have my first paid piece of writing on another website come with the same price tag it was apparently worth to the Poverello Center to pay-off the homeless residents of Cedar Street (and possibly beyond)? All this comes after the Poverello stood by, week after week, allowing homeless individuals, including three pregnant women, to live in squalor just a few dozen feet from their front door.

While monetizing content is still a need of mine, I was at a different grocery store (the expensive one my privileged-ass spends money at) when I noticed the promotion for the annual Poverello Pumpkin fundraiser in which donors can buy a $10 pumpkin at participating retailers and have that money donated to the Poverello Center. 

At $10 dollars a pumpkin, it would take 10 pumpkins to make one homeless person disappear from Cedar Street.

I did not attend the University of Montana to become an accountant, and doing this kind of math was making me a little queasy, so instead of approaching the information I had in a purely transactional manner, I decided to reach out to Roy McKenzie and offer this introductory piece of writing as a donation from one struggling blogger to another.

So that is what I did, and that is why you are reading about how many pumpkins it takes to make a homeless person disappear on this blog (the answer is, apparently, 10).

If any legacy media would like to follow up on this reporting, here are some additional questions I would consider asking.  Where was the funding for the gift cards drawn from?  Were there any restrictions on what the funds could be used for?  Have any Poverello staff quit because of disagreements with how the Cedar Street situation was handled?  How many gift cards were purchased and at what total cost?

If you find this kind of insight into Missoula’s homeless industrial complex to be valuable, please consider supporting the efforts of local citizen journalists like myself and Roy McKenzie.  Or maybe you have some writing skills and insights of your own.  If so, please consider joining the voices that are emerging to fight back against this virulent status quo.

Travis Mateer - Reptile Dysfunction

Travis "William Skink" Mateer is an artist and citizen journalist documenting the New Normal in Missoula, Montana. Read more of his work at Reptile Dysfunction.

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2 Comments

  1. Roger Mitchell on October 5, 2021 at 9:30 pm

    Travis,

    Beautiful piece of journalism. I knew from our encounters on Saturday mornings (Face of Freedom) in front of the courthouse that you had the “gift of gab” and I am pleased to see you also are able to communicate well in writing. Thank you for doing what you can to make things better for the less fortunate among us.

    Good work!

  2. […] Before getting to the wonderful priorities of Bob Funk, the Communications Director for the Montana Federation of Public Employees, I wanted to give RD readers a link to my first piece published at Missoula County Tyranny, titled How Many Pumpkins Does It Take To Disappear A Homeless Camper From Cedar Street? […]

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