Crime in Missoula's Westside: A Look toward the future

This week, ABC FOX Montana's Angela Marshall and Ben Wineman have brought you a series of stories, focusing on crime in Missoula's most problematic areas, particularly the Westside neighborhood.

They spoke to people, who are feeling the pain of these offenses: illegal camping, vandalism, theft, drugs, littering, graffiti.

And they took you to the streets to meet people, who are often accused of these offenses.

Plus, you heard from those, who are working on a daily basis to keep Missoula safe and you protected.

But after watching their reports, you may be wondering, "Is it working?"

Angela had the chance to sit down with one woman, who's living proof that it can work, going from being a homeless addict to now being housed.

She told Angela how she's working to be a productive member of our community, one day at a time.

Here's Yev's story:

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"Because of the decisions that I made... it led to the removal of my children."

These are words that no mother wants to say.

But that is exactly what happened to 32-year-old "Yev" as she asked me to call her.

More than three years ago, the single mother of two was evicted from her home.

"I wasn't very active in taking care of my mental health, my physical health, any aspect of my life, really. We were just trying to get by day to day."

A loss of control over her life led to the loss of custody of her children six months later.

She wouldn't go into detail about how that happened, but says that she suffers from mental health issues and she struggles with an addiction.

"Alcohol was my drug of choice."

Motivated to get her daughters back, she began staying at the Poverello Center.

"All of your belongings, you carry on your person. Everything you need for the day, everything you need for the month, you have to have with you."

Try as she might, it was not easy getting her life back on track.

It got worse, much worse.

"In an attempt to stay off of alcohol, I added the influences that you get when you're homeless. I switched over to meth," Yev said. "There's just a lot of other situations that I experienced while I was homeless that were more dangerous than that."

Her time living on the streets was spent begging for money, begging for food and begging for drugs.

It's an experience so traumatic she chooses not fully share it with me.

"And they aren't something that I want to relive or have anybody relive," She went on to say. "I had to get to a very low point. And at that low point, I couldn't even reach out for help. Help was pretty much thrown at me."

While staying at the Poverello Center, she was enrolled in Western Montana Mental Health Center's intense substance abuse treatment program.

Five months later, she moved onto Western's campus, staying in the Share House.

It was here, she was given 24-hour support, all to guide her through her addiction and focus on her mental health.

Today, Yev is holding down a part-time job

She has moved into her own apartment and is able to see her daughters regularly.

"For a long time, I would say, 'if I could get a home, anybody could get a home,'" She teared up. "I get to experience life more because I know how bad it can be."

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Missoula's highest-ranking official says that he is committed to doing just that: making life better for the Missoula community.

Yet he has a realistic approach, saying that the problem won't get fixed overnight.

"We work on one area, people move to the next one. Ultimately, until addiction goes away, and we have enough mental health services, until we can temper poverty, end cyclical poverty, that laundry list of social woes that are part and parcel of a growing community, we are going to be dealing with this on a catch as catch can basis." Mayor Engen said. "It doesn't get fixed overnight, but there are things that I think we can do in working with the neighborhoods that can help."

And the city has already begun to do this work.

Earlier this month, in a partnership with Missoula County and several non-profits, Missoula leaders announced the start of a 200 unit affordable housing complex.

Thirty of those units will be reserved for people, who are living on the streets and battling drug and mental health issues... to help get their lives back on track.

Also included in the next budget, he says, is a request to add six more police officers to the force, which will allow each one of them to spend more time patrolling targeted areas.

And he recognizes the valuable need for a permanent detox facility in Missoula.

It's a list of needs he wants for the city and acknowledges that while others say these resources may only attract bad behaviors, it is the city's responsibility to take care of its own.

"Having jerks in the community is nothing new. In the old days, jerks got run out on a rail. We don't do that today in Missoula, Montana," he said. "We try to, within the law, deal with jerks. And everyone else who is suffering and doing their best to be good citizens, try and lift them up."

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This week, you've heard from a variety of people, who are all in some way impacted by this large issue: city and county officials, police officers, prosecutors, mental health workers, business owners, those who are currently living on the streets and those, who have left that lifestyle.

ABC FOX Montana is sharing all of their stories as they try to make Missoula a safe and inviting city for everyone.

"Stabilization is the first thing that we need to do," mentioned Kari Auclair, the Director of Western Montana Mental Health Center. "We can build houses all day long and the funding, of course, would have to come for that, but folks need to be stable in the houses, because they're still taking the same problems with them."

Keithi Worthington, the Chief Prosecutor of the City of Missoula, said, "It is a lot to go from living on the streets and being homeless to back into housing. It's a lot of steps. It's a lot of work. And so they need assistance. A lot of them just don't know how to get there."

"I guess my biggest advice would be," Yev said. "Even though it's hard to even know what it is, would be to just take that first responsible step."

"I think, as businesses, we need to start looking at these people as people and not homeless," said Bryan Hindman, the manager of Mountain Valley Inn.

"I think Missoula is going to lead the way in coming up with the solution in dealing with the homeless population, helping them get off their feet, getting them out of the criminal justice system, and out of the streets and downtown areas," Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott said. "It's a huge challenge, but I think Missoula is ripe to take it on."

If you would like to contribute to the conversation, ABC FOX Montana wants to hear from you.

Join the conversation here.

And here's how you can watch previous stories in this series:

PART1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

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