MISSOULA, Mont. — After two days of cleanup efforts and over eight tons of trash hauled away, community volunteers say there’s still much more to be cleaned under the Reserve Street bridge in Missoula. As the Clark Fork River rises over the next few weeks, there’s a chance of that trash going into the river if it’s not picked up.
“Any sort of waste that gets into our waterways can really have an impact, so anything from trash we leave behind when we’re out recreating to dumping things we shouldn’t be into the waters or near the waters really can impact the habitat of the fish and wildlife in the area,” said Vivaca Crowser with Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “It can be an overall negative thing for the environment.”
Volunteers and people commenting on the NBC Montana Facebook page asked if elected officials and nonprofits working with the unhoused population were assisting in the cleanup efforts. In an email thread from volunteers cleaning up the area, organizers say that so far in 2022, the Poverello Center and other agencies haven’t helped.
In an email from Susan Hay Patrick with United Way, she said, “United Way and other nonprofits (like the Poverello Center) go ‘above and beyond,’ operating at or above capacity in terms of our efforts to provide housing, services and support to our unhoused neighbors. While we work hard and effectively, with very limited resources in proportion to the problem, we simply do not have the capacity to join clean-up efforts.”
Jim Hicks, executive director of Hope Rescue Mission, said they’re not a part of the cleanups because they have prior commitments.
The Poverello Center responded but didn’t address cleanup efforts directly. Executive director Jill Bonny said their goal is to work with people living unsheltered, and their focus will continue to be providing food and shelter.
We found out the Poverello Center’s Homeless Outreach Team helped with Reserve cleanup efforts in 2021.
In an email to cleanup organizers with the Reserve Street Public Working Group in April 2021, Bonny said the HOT team agreed to be involved with the understanding there would be no media involved and no other volunteers would be recruited to help clean up through social media.
She went on to say the Homeless Outreach Team works hard to establish relationships with people living unhoused and publicly posting photos of the area on social media is not respectful.
Volunteers plan to clean up the northwest area around the bridge this Friday. You can find more information on how to volunteer on the Let’s Improve Missoula’s Reserve St. Facebook page.
You can read the agencies’ full statements below:
“The Poverello Center Homeless Outreach Team’s goal is to work with people living unsheltered to build relationships, connect with resources, and ultimately get into stable housing. Houselessness continues to be a major crisis in our country and community. HOT is working hard to serve an increased number of folks living unsheltered due to the ongoing lack of available housing and emergency shelter in Missoula as a result of the pandemic. The Poverello Centers focus is, and will continue to be, to provide food, shelter, help and hope to all who ask.” -Jill Bonny, The Poverello Center
“United Way and other nonprofits (like the Poverello Center) go "above and beyond," operating at or above capacity in terms of our efforts to provide housing, services and support to our unhoused neighbors. While we work hard and effectively, with very limited resources in proportion to the problem, we simply do not have the capacity to join clean-up efforts. We focus on providing critical services and support to unhoused Missoulians, working every day to ensure that homelessness in Missoula is rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Again, we do not have the capacity to participate in clean-ups of the Reserve Street property owned by MDOT. I am not certain why some expect us to do more than we do already, given our limited resources. We encourage all Missoulians to learn about our collective work to end homelessness, and the strong collaborations between multiple stakeholders, and to support it.” -Susan Hay Patrick, United Way
“No we are not a part of the clean-up. The date was set well after our calendar was established, we have prior commitments.” -Jim Hicks, Hope Rescue Mission