Crime on Missoula's Westside: Stories from the streets

Some business and homeowners on Missoula's Westside say they are dealing with bad behaviors. But people who are actually living on the streets offer a different perspective.

"It can be hard, especially during the winter... It can be hard out here on the street," says Rich Simms.

"This journey has been more or less to clean me up. It's a humbling experience, living day to day, hand to mouth, so to speak," Daniel Whetson says.

No two stories are the same, and the stereotypes of living on the streets are hard to escape.

"Drunks, druggies, not all of us are. Granted, there are people that are drunk, people that do drugs. But those of us who don't, we all kind of get grouped together. It's hard," Simms, 58, says.

It's the grouping together that frustrates him. He's been living on the streets for the last five years, and the last two have been spent in Missoula.

"There are people out in the community that do try and help. But for the most part, the community turns their nose up at us. Treats us like second class citizens," says Simms.

Rich says he's here because of a foot injury. He's used nonprofit services like the Poverello Center and the Salvation Army. But right now, he says he's stuck.

Daniel Whetson on the other hand -- he's not stuck in one place at all. The 30-year old from Ohio came to Missoula only a week ago. He's used to life on the road.

"So far, it's just been a drifting around, consciously, I can't seem to make decisions properly," Whetson says.

He never got into specifics about why he's living this lifestyle. But he did tell me he's had stops in Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Indiana-- constantly moving around, constantly looking for the next place. Like Rich, the stereotype associated with his situation is frustrating.

"I think a lot of people's misconception is if they are on the road, they deserve it. They think just because you are on the streets, you are a druggie, and that's not true," Whetson says.

Officer Randy Krastel is the downtown business improvement officer with the Missoula Police Department. He is specifically assigned to this population in the city.

He says his business is the *solution* business, working with people on a one-on-one basis.

"What I do is I get to know this person or that person, figure out who they are, know them by their first name, and get to know how they got to be in their situation. See if there are any resources that I can help get them out of the situation they are in." Krastel says.

Krastel is part of the coordinated outreach team, which is a group of like-minded organizations that work toward making those solutions a living reality for people living on the streets.

"If we can make it a one-time thing for somebody, that's the goal. Everyone has a point in their life when they are down and out, they need help. Some people ask for the help, and some people do not. So that is the ultimate goal, to make it a one-time thing in their life," Krastel says.

For Daniel and Rich, they've learned a lot about not only humanity, but themselves.

"What have you learned about yourself through this process? "That I can get things done on my own. I think I'm a little stronger for being out here," Simms says.

We want you to join in on this conversation about crime in the Westside neighborhood. You can find the community forum here: https://www.abcfoxmontana.com/crime_reports_missoula/missoula_crime_reports_/

To see previous stories in this series:

Part One: 

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