Trigger Warning: The following article contains graphic imagery of violence against homeless people and death.
A Murder Scene Unfolds: June 25, 2023, Kalispell, Montana
In the wee hours of an early summer morning, a small Montana town became the stage for a gruesome murder, which was tragic but predictable in the eyes of many housing advocates. At approximately 2 a.m. on that fateful day, a 60-year-old homeless man by the name of Scott Bryan was found lying dead on the asphalt near a Kalispell gas station, his face crushed to the point where bone protruded from the nasal cavity.
The alleged perpetrator, a 19-year-old identified as Kaleb Fleck, is believed to have beaten Bryan to death with the aid of another adolescent named Wiley Meeker. Brief video footage from the incident allegedly shows Meeker and Fleck boasting about the bloody encounter while Bryan lay unresponsive in a pool of his own blood.
Kaleb Fleck was arrested and charged with the heinous crime of deliberate homicide. His crony Wiley Meeker was initially arrested as well. However, charges against the latter-mentioned suspect were immediately dropped. Charges against Fleck are still pending.
As a testament to the warped morals of society, the alleged assailant has already garnered financial and social support from peers who raised $500,000 for his bail. Alas, another suspected murderer roams free while another homeless man lies slain, a story that just keeps being repeated.
Homeless Deaths are on the Rise Across the Country, and Many of them Have Violent Ends
All across the country, from California to Arizona, New York to Washington, and many spaces in between, homeless deaths are rising at unprecedented rates and reaching record highs in several counties. The latest data suggest that 20 homeless people die each day. These deaths are often preventable, and their final fleeting moments are often violent.
In light of the data, Scott Bryan’s murder was not an exceptional case in its nature. Disturbingly, this is the norm.
Reflecting on the tragedy, community services director Sean O’Neill told USA Today that he had warned Bryan to stay on his toes the day before he died, insinuating the homeless man might have to fight for his life sometime soon. This sentiment was echoed by several other housing advocates, many of whom were fond of Bryan, who had become a coveted, albeit controversial, figure in the small town.
Tragic but Typical: The Life and Death of Scott Bryan
Flathead County local Scott Bryan was a well-known community member despite his housing status. Described by those who knew him as a gentle soul with a sometimes thorny, protective demeanor, his life, like his death, was filled with struggle.
He was diagnosed with lung cancer and survived it in his 20s, but recovery gave way to a new, less healthy version of normal. Long-term health issues like epilepsy plagued him, making it difficult for Bryan, who was chronically ill, to maintain employment.
Bryan was ambitious, but his poor health kept him at the back of the employment line, juggling low-paying part-time jobs and barely making ends meet. He shuffled in and out of low-income housing before finally falling completely through the cracks and winding up unsheltered on the street.
According to reports, on the ill-fated morning when his life was taken, he had only $65 to his name. Clearly, there was no monetary motive for this murder. It appears to have been a spontaneous outburst of unadulterated hate.
Sowing the Seeds of Violence Using Shameful Victim-Blaming Tactics
Montana housing advocates have expressed fear for the lives of the local unhoused population due in part to the fact that government-incited victim-blaming is creating a hostile environment.
In an effort to punitively enforce anti-camping ordinances, Flathead County commissioners published an editorial that accused housing advocates of being homeless enablers and urged them to stop expressing sympathy towards homeless individuals, whom they referred to with the derogatory term “wanderers.”
While the Op-ed did not expressly call for violence, many believe it subtly implied that an attitude of intolerance toward people enduring homelessness was appropriate or even necessary. Below are just a few examples of some of the most cringeworthy statements made in the letter published by the GOP, which was later reproduced in segments on The Daily Beast:
“Providing homeless infrastructure has the predictable consequence of attracting more homeless individuals.”
“Make no mistake, it is a lifestyle choice for some. In fact, many of the homeless encountered in our parks, streets, and alleys consist of a progressive networked community who have made the decision to reject help and live unmoored.”
“Using social media and smartphones, these wanderers are well-networked and eager to share that Kalispell has ‘services’ to serve their lifestyle…”
The motivation behind the editorial appears to be a Republican opposition to a locally built low-barrier shelter. Still, some say it was a subliminal call to violence and one that was most tragically answered.
In addition to the cold-blooded murder of Scott Bryan, there have also been rumors circulating about other incidents of violent encounters wherein homeless people were seriously injured and one that suggests a homeless couple’s dog was killed.
Community Remembrance and Moving Forward
Scott Bryan might be gone from this earth, but his memory lives on in the hearts of those who knew and cared for him. Friends, associates, and loved ones gathered at the Flathead Warming Center to share stories and photographs of their deceased friend.
Far from the gruesome crime scene imagery of lacerations, bone, and blood were the photographs of Bryan as a youth attending his prom and of him smiling as an elementary school youngster. The beaming child in the photos at the memorial service suffered senselessly as an adult, a fate that could have befallen anyone.
The question remains… When will the violence finally stop?
Talk To Your Representatives About Saving Lives by Drafting and Enforcing Rights to Housing
The only way to save our vulnerable neighbors without walls is by providing them with permanent, supportive housing. As a nation, we are currently short 7.3 million affordable homes. This is a crisis that many people are paying for with their lives. As a gesture of hope for the victims of homelessness, please connect with your local legislators and urge them to draft and enforce laws that make housing an irrevocable human right.