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Guidelines for Letters to the Editor

Letters may be edited for length, clarity, taste, and to prevent libel. Include the writer’s first and last name, phone number, and address for verification purposes. Your name and town of residence will be published with your letter.

4 Ranges wellness Center

To whom it may concern;


My name is Gregory Johns. I have been a resident of Park County for approximately six years. I have been coming here for  40 years. My business partner and friend Richard Childress had a ranch in Paradise valley. My family and I came here often for many years vacationing, hunting and fishing.


Six years ago when I  retired I made someone President of my company and I fulfilled my dream of moving to Montana.


Over the short period of time that I have lived here I have gotten to know numerous people- friends that their kids have committed suicide, along with a couple of adults.


Over the the short span of years I have lived in Livingston it became apparent that there is definitely an ongoing problem in Park county concerning mental health. I have always been very supportive of the community I lived in. I have served on many numerous boards all of my life. I was looking for a way to help the community I love, Livingston and Park County.


I ask numerous people about this suicide issue  and I never could get a straight answer from anyone.


But last year I met Julie Anderson.


Julie talked to me in depth about suicide in Montana and in Park County, and answered many questions I had. She was kind enough before Christmas to send me numerous articles that I downloaded concerning suicide in Montana and Livingston.  I printed off those articles and took that stack home with me to my daughters house over Christmas and studied it as much as possible. What Julie gave me and info from John Gregory with Community Health Partners and others, I had info to study.


While I was going over all that information I saw trends!


The main conclusion I could come up with was the suicides were predominantly males 14 to 34. And a trend in the months of January February, March and April.


So during  the Christmas holidays into January when I was in this little mountain town Staunton, Virginia, with my daughter son in law and granddaughter.


Every morning we would get up and take my two-year-old granddaughter to the YMCA about 830 put her in childcare while my daughter worked out.


Also my son-in-law would get up at 5:30 and go there and work out before he went to his  fire base. 

So immediately lights  started going off in my head because as I went into that YMCA every morning, I saw people of all ages doing water aerobics. I saw people swimming laps, working out on machines and people going in and out of the sauna and a steam and the hot tub. Adults and children alike! Mothers chatting with other mothers.


Sure this kind of clicked on me and I got very excited because I felt like for the first time I knew what Livingston really needed!


Livingston needed someplace for these kids and adults to go to meet other people to be able to get out of the weather and out of the wind .


And open their eyes to the fact that there was a whole other world out there. And give them a place to meet new more affluent friends!


So I got so excited. I felt like for the first time I knew what Livingston needed to help people survive this winter depression!


So, as soon as I flew back home to Livingston, I made an appointment with Gavin Clark and I went to see Gavin and I said Gavin I think I know what we need here in Livingston we need a YMCA. Gavin says well great minds think alike because  Arthur Blank has donated $10 million and his ex-wife has donated five and a few other people to build this new Four Ranges Wellness Center.


Which is virtually what you’re talking about. So I said well hook me up with them and whatever I Gotta do, I want to get involved in this.  Which is exactly what I did. I met with Chase Rose and made a major contribution for 4 ranges facility.


But being in the construction business for all these  yours, I knew that it was gonna take quite a while to get this 4 Ranges facility up and running.


I intern decided to start my own nonprofit until Four Ranges could get built.


Which I did in conjunction with Park county community foundation.


Its called the “Living Life Fund!”

So I started that last year, and I paid Fishing Guides to take Young kids, ice fishing all winter.


This year I have expanded my program and I am partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters and we are starting in Fall  taking kids bowling swimming at Chico and hiking just to name a few programs we are initiating with BBBS. Then when ice fishing season cranks back up I’ll be paying fishing guides taking kids ice fishing again.

But this is not why I have written this letter.

I have written this letter because now it’s my understanding that we cannot find the funding to operate the Four Ranges Facility!


I know, and understand that we have a high population of of residence that fall into the poverty category. I get it, tax increases are difficult. But somehow someway, we must figure out a way to make this Four Ranges Wellness Center happen! This will be a game changer for Park County and the Livingston residence.


This would be the only facility of its kind in the state built totally with private funds!


What frustrates me as much as anything is that? I have talked to numerous people with plenty of ways and means, and they know nothing about Four  Ranges, Wellness Center. “That is getting ready to change I might add.”


When I tell them about this facility and what it will bring to Park county and especially Livingston, all they want to know is where do I sign up?


As everyone knows we need a new swimming pool and God knows we need an indoor facility, and a stronger mental health team. 4 Ranges is the answer!


As I look around Livingston and on every street corner I see a casino and bars? My Gosh if we could tap into some of that money that’s wasted day in day out we could fund the operation of the facility!


I have started successfully quite a few businesses over the years.


And somehow someway I always managed to find the money.


I think it would be a travesty to raise all this  money as we have close to 20 plus million dollars committed to this project and now not build the Four Ranges Wellness Center .

If there is a will there is a way!


I think that if nothing else as a last resort, we downsize the project and turn it over to the YMCA and let them run it and give them an endowment to help them run it for years to come.


If the city of Livingston doesn’t feel comfortable in taking this project on, then that may be something to think about! But honestly this is a gift from God, a game changer for Livingston for years to come!


I challenge you the city of Livingston and Park County leaders to find a way to make this happen!


Gregory Johns, 336-337-4542
408 south 13th Street, Livingston mt

Housing is like medicine - first do no harm

One of life’s great tightrope balances is finding a way to be helpful to others without being foolish or harmful. Fortunately, Montana has a lot of common sense rooted in experience on this subject. The trick is to be honest with yourself if even the plan on the table in front of you doesn’t make sense. 


Anyone who’s read past guest opinions here gets that big money, however well intentioned, can harm as well as help. The tendrils of corporate influence and control can easily reach down to local levels, as we know from the selfish PFL/Goldman Sachs suit against the city, pitting well-funded powerful interests against small communities like ours, as only one example (inserting my customary reference here to the book Billionaire Wilderness about similar conflicts throughout the West.) Investors and grantors alike in turn disproportionately shape communities through entities like PCCF, PFL, Explore Livingston, and HRDC. The recent “Housing Coalition” is a shift from where in years past, less by oligarchy and more by democracy, the community used to shape itself. 


Plutocracy, government by the rich, doesn’t have to be big and obvious. Like an eclipse, just the shadow can hint at its presence. I see the hints in the “housing crisis,” which until recently was a fairly alien idea. 


HRDC has grown especially big for its britches. Technically, only a 501(c)(3), in competition with similar entities, it is not, as many assume, an arm of either Park County or Livingston governments. It is only a 501 (c) (3).  Yet is seems to intimidate our commissions into thinking we have to just accept their “Housing Action Plan” and insert it into the Growth Policies which WE, not they, participated in and created with full public process. 


They are wrong. We should never have included the HRDC “Housing Action Plan” in with the Growth Policy. Period.


That plan, for all their claims otherwise, is still at base the creation of HRDC staff. As if it weren’t obvious from its potentially destructive effects, as it could stand to kill our downtown in the way PFL/Goldman Sachs has been indirectly trying to do. It’s a bad idea, but it gets touted by the plutocracy and their minions as critical to fix the “crisis.” 


What crisis? We had tools in place and functional control of normal social issues. Sure, in Bozeman, they developed a crisis - thanks to the mismanagement of HRDC, whose latest shelter project is straining Walmart and has already killed the beautiful useful rest stop along I-90 at 19th Ave. Not something to be proud of, though I doubt HRDC cares. And they may yet bring the same mess soon to a Livingston, if we are not vigilant. 


Livingston, for all the attempts to quash our Growth Policy and make us just another Bozeman suburb, is I argue a horse of a very different color. We have not yet lost our small-town identity to the big bucks planners of sprawl. We still feel our roots in railroading, pioneers, and Yellowstone Park tourism, and people here, out-of-state stereotypes aside, genuinely care about their neighbors. But we have always addressed things like homelessness in our own way - and critically, on our own scale.


After my grandfather died in the 1918 flu epidemic, my grandmother continued running the Grabow Hotel with the help of her five children, including my father, born here in 1900.

But in a way, there was to be a sixth child. 


In the 1920’s, the Urbach family, who lived on a ranch out on Swingley, became victims of a bombing by a German-hating bigot, an event written up by the beloved late historian Doris Whithorn in a booklet available I believe at Sax & Fryer (140 years old this year and a history fan’s playground). Angry over an injury to his thumb, the murderer it was said put dynamite in the Urbach family cooking stove. When the father rose in the morning to get the fire going, it exploded. The mother died instantly as she slept in the bedroom above it, and the father died the next day. Louie and his three brothers survived, but became orphans. 


My grandmother Grabow went out to the ranch and picked up Louie who was twelve. She told the older boys, the   sixteen years old and older, that they would be all right. They were old enough to scrape by, but Louie was only twelve, so Elizabeth brought him to the hotel to care for him and help shepherd him through this devastation, basically adopting him with maternal care. That did not keep her from setting standards. She said he’d have to keep his bedroom clean, and she would teach him the hotel business and pay him for his work, saving money from his earnings to put him into college when the time came. He had to attend school and get good grades and be an active participant like the rest of her children. And in Montana fashion, she was true to her word.

Louie got a degree in engineering from MSU. She was always kind to him and he loved her back in spades, as she helped fill the hole that had been violently put in his life. I always remember Uncle Louie calling my grandmother “Mom.” It was the natural outcome of how Livingston people realistically helped each other. 

The implied rules were simple: (1) you keep your room clean; (2) you work and make something of yourself with the help; and (3) you pull your weight. In exchange, you get the proverbial hand up instead of hand out, and you harmonize with the community in a human connection, which is what sustains us all. 

People then had less use for a label like “homeless” or “crisis,” at least not till the Great Depression. They were seen as real people with names and stories and challenges, because they still hoped to recover and better their lives. They suffered less from a guiding elite class creating a state dependency. True transitional housing will probably always have a place, but when it makes people fit themselves into slots and classes, it’s almost as mentally destructive as the raging drug problems that destroy families and lives. We could learn things from the past. 


Or we, like HRDC, could create an eternal bureaucracy in a codependent cycle of perpetual victimhood. In the same way Big Pharma stays rich by treating people instead of curing them, organizations quickly learn to self-perpetuate, and I believe HRDC has fallen into that trap. The more you depend on channeling grants, the less incentive you have to truly solve your problems. 


What we have today I call corporate caring - more organizational than human, more removed from the issues, more tempted to dictate solutions modeled after its own needs than those of the community. (And then they have the nerve to scapegoat Mom and Pop businesses!)


I had a dear friend, Isabella Tweedy, who because of her alcoholism had spent a great deal of time on the streets. I had met her while I was a counselor in the Washington state prison system years ago.   In one of her poems, An Ode for Jim Mitsui, a Japanese American who spend time in a concentration camp during WWII, she spoke of what is today’s corporate “caring” as the “shored up, carefully covered up, numerical dreams of the truly removed.” This modern solution for the streets, she knew, can become a spiral echoed in her words, “I have a jeweled garden. Live toads haunt it.” 


A friend who lives in currently HRDC-managed housing, the Sherwood, thinks this isn’t that far off. He said even just seven years ago HRDC did a fairly reasonable job, because it was run by Montanans for Montanans. Now he contends the people running it have been imported in chiefly for their skills at funneling in national grants, at the price of organizational experience rooted in the soil here. 

I went over to the recently converted “homeless” center in Bozeman. As much as I dislike the effect of the term, that’s what they call it. These people are real people with individual stories and, more importantly differing needs.  The HRDC leadership announced to the world, with corporate flair on national news, millions of dollars in grants from people like Jeff Bezos for huge “homeless” center.


Was HRDC out of its mind?


If you don’t think that got the attention of a lot of people all over the country, you don’t yet live in the Information Age, where even the uprooted know the internet and carry a cell phone. I helped an older man who had bicycled and panhandled all of the way to the newly announced Mecca in Bozeman from, I kid you not, Florida, when he heard the news. Ironically, he was completely disappointed when he got here and was planning to bike and panhandle to his next stop, Cleveland. 


So, I wanted to see what HRDC’s Bozeman’s shelter was like so I went over.  It was 12 degrees outside at around ten in the morning.


Four people were seated around a fire right in front of a heated building, one of them a Park High graduate, using whatever garbage they could find to keep their only heat, their fire, going. They had been kicked out of the nice continually heated building 30 feet behind them at seven in the morning and were trying to stay alive until seven that night. 


Are they kidding? Twelve degrees outside? There has to be an intelligent middle ground somewhere. 


When I asked them why they were shivering outside, they said HRDC had told them they lacked the staff for day coverage. You had the sense that grant money was going to a lot of salaries for administration, with chump change for the people supposedly being served, and someone somewhere seemed not to care. 


The much lime lighted shelter was surrounded with sketchy trailers with no septic service. Walmart for years has been lenient for travelers with its parking lots. Today they’re nearing the end of their rope with people moving in from elsewhere, I saw three men eating chips that day in the warm entryways. Are our alleged problem solvers really going to fix any of the potentially infinite demand with their millions of dollars (that always come from somewhere, meaning you) instead of rethinking the problems? 


It feels like an airplane being designed by elementary students 

who like to draw pictures and build models. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t buy a ticket on one. Whether they mean well or not, it’s not flying. 


Looking back locally in Livingston, I understand that in five years, for all the money poured into it, HRDC has built no local housing or even cooperative trailer courts---nothing!  They get their millions and hire staff. The employees may be pleasant and educated, but they really seem detached from where the rubber meets the road. 


Small wonder that with so much resources not fixing that much, we’ve seen here in town recently a group of people take nearly the opposite tack. Instead of top down, it’s ground level. It worries about projects closer sometimes to $30 instead, yet it helps. And they, though not certified and naive, seem a lot more grounded in the street realities of both people and the place. 


It was my observation that though they certainly had not yet mastered my grandmother’s first rule of keeping your room clean, however, there is merit in the idea of not leaving people to just huddle by a fire with no plans and a part of a hand out. People absolutely need to be involved in their solutions. If the person needs a job, even if it’s just day labor, get them to it. If a person needs transitional housing has mental health problems, then have them work with the mental health community during the day. If someone needs alcoholism counseling, then help them get it.  Families with children are a whole different category.  Maybe we might not need administrators alone in a day program, but often people who have sought transitional housing themselves.  We live many lives within our life. 


If only we could help export some of the common sense the other way, though. At least teach HRDC’s shelter elementaries like how to run a day program at least for the hardest part of this winter or something. I fear it might be impossible without a serious personnel shakeup, though, because the smart people don’t get funding, and those with funding just don’t seem that interested in smart. 


It’s costly when people are distanced from the grass roots. We need to pull the badly flawed “Housing Action Plan” devised almost entirely by the employees of the single, corporate, non-profit HRDC, from both the county and the city growth plans. It’s just pounding square pegs into round holes. It was premature, and it bypassed the real community input the Growth Plans enjoyed. And most intelligent programs like that always implement a pilot period first to gauge results, evaluate, make adjustments, pilot some more, and eventually iron out the inevitable kinks, and this one has a legion of them. Local governments should demand results instead of being driven by top-heavy entrenched entities, and (at least till vetted, but maybe even then), keep it external to the community-grown Growth Policy into which 1600 Livingstonians put their hearts and souls. 


If we can protect things against an unlimited potential spillover demand from Bozeman, we can make cooperative plans for transitional housing that is really transitional instead of the urban messes created by HRDC elsewhere.


Thus far, our city manager has held his ground with the help of a Livingston city ordinance, and unlike Bozeman,  no one lives in any kind of RV or housing on our streets.  Kudos! 


Someone told me it used to be said in the old USSR that Lenin tried to kill the Tsarist bureaucracy and lost. And maybe top administrators are like wily fish, too clever to get pulled from the pond. But without heavy turnover or with, we need common sense, or more old-school Montanans like it used to be, if we ever want to see real solutions. Heck, find consultants to help HRDC understand my grandmother’s rules, or how not to leave people standing around just shivering with absolutely no hand up. It might not be that radical to take the few non-expert, non-PhD people over to Bozeman for a period of time while Livingston gets its act together.   HRDC apparently doesn’t plan to open our warming center soon anyway because they “do not have the money.” Pretty unimpressive from the entity that’s pushed its “Housing Action Plan” on us with no clear accountability or pilot. It’s like begging HRDC to duplicate the Bozeman mess here and then claim it’s all unsolvable. 


The best solutions are the ones so rooted in ground level common sense they never get lost in the administrative stratosphere. The more you get buried in eternal grant management, the more you risk of spiraling into a loop of private and public sectors dependent on the super-wealthy and losing touch. Maybe even Bozeman will start to wake up and see that under the current HRDC leadership, it’s been headed down the wrong road for a while. 


In the meantime, if you’re on 90 and desperately need to pee, don’t make any plans for stopping at the HRDC-devastated 19th Street former rest stop any time soon. 


Patricia Grabow

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PO Box 1851 Livingston, MT 59047  |  Tel: 406-220-0919

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