What's Your Beef? MSU Soroptomist Plan Fails To Include Unhoused Residents

photos by Erinn Hermsen  |   Monday Feb. 1st, 2021

Willful ignorance is a malignant tendency in our world, and unfortunately, we (Alyssa White and Jim Macdonald ) have observed it on the streets of downtown Bozeman. In tiny Soroptomist Park, we have regularly witnessed the willful ignorance of many in acknowledging that unhoused people live amongst us, treated as though they don’t exist. For this reason, we are especially disappointed by the willful ignorance of MSU students, mentors and professors involved in the Soroptomist Park and Bozeman Creek “Alternative Futures” project, who in a recently published 112-page report failed even once to mention the existence or consider the needs of unhoused communities living in the park they were so closely observing.

While the population of people without homes is not discussed once, the “Alternative Futures” report details precisely the amounts of sound and light that the park receives, the permeability of its surfaces, temperature and shade patterns, and macroinvertebrate counts. With so much care and close observation, we wonder why there isn’t a single word about the people who call Soroptomist their home or their interests in the development work moving forward. How can this plan be “inclusive of all ages, incomes, abilities, and backgrounds” if no park residents were asked for their opinion of the plan? The report details 26 meetings, 230+ participants and 300 written comments from Bozeman residents. How hard could it have been to talk to, include and make special mention of the people actually residing in the park?

We are concerned that people living in the park will become more displaced as a direct result of the report’s design ideas. We also take issue with a listed goal of the plan to promote more luxury housing in the area, which will continue to drive out those below a certain income and instill the idea that this a town where only the affluent are allowed to exist. How can a plan be inclusive of all incomes when it may simultaneously drive out the poorest residents and make it most accessible to those who have the highest incomes?

While we all should care about Bozeman Creek restoration and believe we would all love functioning bike lanes, it is a glaring oversight to call the park a “great living room” for shoppers while ignoring that Soroptomist Park is literally a living room for a number of human beings.

We would like to see the amount of time and energy put into this research actually spent on getting to know the people who call Soroptomist Park their home and working with them to understand their needs and their desires for the park, and we would like to see that considered within a follow-up report. Whatever else we do in Soroptomist, we must remember and respect those whom we have far too often chosen not to see or treat as equal and valued members of our Bozeman community.

Alyssa White and Jim Macdonald are concerned citizens.

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