Facing Main

A Call for Compassion

Reports of violence and harassment against the homeless population have increased this year

By Maggie Doherty

Scott Bryan, aged 60 years old, died on the west side of Kalispell during the early hours of Sunday, June 25, 2023. Police determined that the cause of death was assault. The report also added an important qualifier to the description of Bryan, one that should matter and should not because murder is murder.

Bryan was homeless. It is believed this may have factored into the alleged homicide.

And the heartbreak is real, palpable, and utterly devastating.

Where Bryan lived and how he lived are very important details in this developing story, and so is how our community will respond to such a brutal act of violence. The murder of an innocent person is story enough, but this one is linked to a long, jagged thread of how local officials are responding to the homeless population, individuals who are struggling to meet all aspects of basic human needs like housing, employment, medical care, and community connection. A life was extinguished – a human life – and now as a community, we must look at how those different threads, from the response from both the city and county toward homelessness and how that may have created a hostile atmosphere toward the homeless population.

At the start of the year, our country commissioners printed a letter in local newspapers, including this one, about how the “homeless lifestyle” was being promoted by area non-profit service agencies. The letter, which overlooked the serious factors that lead people and their families to lose their housing, included accusations that those trying to help people in genuine need weren’t providing essential resources but rather creating a larger problem. In the months since, both the county and the city have taken several actions to deter how unhoused individuals interact with our city.

Reports of violence and harassment against the homeless population have increased this year, an outcome that many homeless advocates predicted would happen after that letter. How we talk and write about people, especially certain groups of people matter, and words drive action. Some of that action is volatile and destructive. Since that letter, there’s been a lot of rhetoric devoted to why there’s an increase in homelessness, and many of those stories are taking place in various local media outlets and around the table of various service and non-profit organizations all centered upon finding positive, lasting solutions to a humanitarian crisis. Yet, when there’s a lack of official leadership, or rather, a directive from the top that deploys false and dangerous information, it only exacerbates a problem.

In this moment of darkness, I mourn for the life of Scott Bryan. I also look to leader Chris Krager, the executive director of the Samaritan House, who is calling for compassion in the aftermath of Bryan’s murder. In my faith, when someone has died, we say: May his memory be a blessing. To this, I add: May Scott Bryan’s memory be a blessing and a time for reckoning, and justice.

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