Last winter I helped some families move out of the old Outlaw Inn. It was clear that there were real barriers to preventing our neighbors from getting better housing. What’s worse is that the term “ordinary” is used to denigrate families who live and pay rent in Outlaw. There are very few places where the average person, earning “close” money can rent. If these families have any health problems, then the doors can close quickly.

Health problems include alcoholism, which can lead to many behavioral problems or even self-harm because there is no other treatment. Uncontrolled health problems can lead to lawsuits and prosecution. As one Outlaw neighbor put it, “I had a horrible divorce. I made my choices. I know, but now I’m guilty. Now most of the management companies in Kalispell do not rent me because of my reputation.

I also worked with a 76-year-old man who smoked and had severe back pain. “I did not expect to live this long,” she told me. The only place there was, with its characteristics and needs, was outside Bigfork. But she still needed to see a doctor regularly at Kalispell Hospital. Her family later moved to Washington to live with a relative.

Local people are being pushed out and growing. We are looking for additional support services at Flathead. Our community health research continues to show that we have a serious health and drug use problem. We all know it and it is impossible to miss or lose. Talking about the problem is one way we start to deal with the problem. This problem is part of our housing problem. We have neighbors who are unable to maintain the house, or the services they need to cover the roof, because they need medical attention. Not full-time employment, but access to psychiatric treatment, support services, and restorative justice strategies.

Our moral health system is under-resourced and underfunded in Montana. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a health care provider on the go. We provide antiretroviral therapy but we have few hospitals located in your area or in Montana. Our neighbors are turning to self-medication, and we have no access to health care in the area. Many of our team homes and medical choices are unoccupied or closed. We need to ask where the money for alcohol and tobacco that is supposed to support local activities is going. And we need to make sure that the tax revenue from the marijuana trade goes back to the community and goes directly to address the growing problem rather than just getting into the eagle’s coffers. The money should also go to law enforcement officials to train staff who want to deal with the mental problems in the area.

If we do not address the real issues that keep local people out of the house, then we will continue to need a bigger and bigger prison, which is a shameful way to solve our housing problem.

Kyle Waterman is a Democrat candidate for Senate District 4

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