Stephanie Land

My oldest daughter moved to Missoula when she was four. She’ll be seventeen on summer solstice. I chose Missoula thirteen years ago because of its family-oriented and compassionate community. We really needed that.

We became homeless when my daughter was 7 months old. After endless emotional abuse, her dad became violent, and I left with only two hundred dollars, no job, and no child care. I was grateful to have a car where we could nap, eat, and store our things. We lived in a camper parked in my dad’s driveway until I found us a place in a shelter where my daughter started crawling, and eventually took her first steps the day before her first birthday.

It’s impossible to discuss domestic violence without acknowledging its connection to homelessness. A recent study from the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence found that 57% of women who are homeless attributed domestic violence as the primary reason for lacking shelter. This percentage reaches an unbelievable height of 80% if the woman has a child in her care.

I imagine people who saw my 7-month-old daughter and I playing at a park didn’t assume we were homeless. Yet this is what homelessness looks like. This is where it began for us, and it would take six years for us to find housing security from an apartment through the Missoula Housing Authority.

Yet, the phrase “homeless people” often conjures a lot of inaccurate images and assumptions based on fear. My belief is that it’s a defense mechanism. A survey conducted by found that 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. One medical emergency could pull the rug out from under an entire family. But it’s too hard and scary to know how easily someone like them can fall into extreme poverty, so they imagine an individual who is the furthest from their own likeness. They assign to this character a list of “bad decisions,” possible violent behaviors, addictions and unpredictable mental health symptoms, and refuse to believe another version exists.

This dehumanizes people who are in desperate need of compassion. When ordinances like the one our City Council is currently considering are passed, it limits a person’s ability to find a safe place to sleep, use the restroom, get ready for work, and get their children ready for daycare or school. People who work and live in our community will be unable to store their belongings while they’re at their jobs, interviews, or appointments because they cannot afford a home.

This ordinance will limit our community’s ability to fully function. Resources will go to enforcement rather than programs that offer support. It will erase people and make them invisible. It will remove people from the workforce. It will make life harder for people who are struggling to survive. This ordinance will keep people homeless.

When homelessness is criminalized, it creates a life full of only bad decisions. I didn’t have any good decisions for a long time. I know how much privilege is required for good decisions to start showing up, and I started out with a lot more privilege than most people who find themselves in poverty.

I’ve been hearing a lot of fear for privileged people’s safety in recent City Council meetings. Ordinances like this one will force victims of domestic violence to go back to their abusers because they’re scared of being fined, jailed, and losing custody of their children. I implore you to let go of the fear you have imagined and consider the fear you’re creating.