Boise Homeless Issue Escalates
The long-simmering feud between the Interfaith Sanctuary and residents has gone to another level. The dispute has garnered local television coverage and now the attention of Boise Mayor Lauren McLean.
The mayor has announced that she has created a task force to solve the problem. The point of contention is the location of the new Interfaith Sanctuary Headquarters. The organization has purchased the old Salvation Army Thrift Store on State Street. Several neighborhood demonstrations against the move met their purchase. The residents say they don't want the homeless in their neighborhood. Enter Mayor McClean, who issued this public statement and video.
In recent months, I was joined by Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee and Our Path Home partners at several neighborhood discussions on homelessness. Rather than focus on the work of the partnership and the challenges before us, the attention was on the proposed location of Interfaith Sanctuary. The nature of the discussions around the project are not representative of who we are as Boiseans. The tone and tenor of the conversations don’t sit right with me, Our Path Home partners, or our residents, including those in crisis.
COVID-19, the unprecedented growth our community is experiencing, and the rising cost of housing has put into sharper focus that we need to evolve emergency shelter and support services for most vulnerable community members. The pandemic has also forced a new normal, and it is up to all of us to meet the moment. We need to reset, come together, and explore solutions to the very real crises our residents are experiencing.
This morning, Jodi Peterson, Executive Director of Interfaith Sanctuary, and I met and came to the decision to put the proposed project on hold. We know that shelter will remain a critical component of Boise's response to homelessness, and that we can and will do shelter better.
Interfaith Sanctuary provides critical services to those experiencing homelessness in our city. And, as we look to do shelter better, we will incorporate best practices and data into our decision-making. To do this, we will quickly convene a task force comprised of Our Path Home partners, a Boise City Council member, health providers, residents who have experienced homelessness and neighborhood leaders, to conduct a comprehensive shelter needs analysis over the course of two months. The analysis will evaluate potential locations for the proposed emergency shelter, including the State Street location, and will fold into Our Path Home’s strategic plan to end homelessness.
Like any other community in the country, Boise is challenged by balancing how to respond to the immediate crisis faced by those who need a safe and welcoming place to shelter tonight with the housing solutions that end homelessness. I know that together we can find solutions that uplift everyone in our community. As Boiseans, we don’t shy away from hard decisions and will never turn our back on those who need our support.
As we move through the process of the shelter needs analysis and ultimately identifying the right location for a new emergency shelter, I ask that we center conversations around our values of compassion, community and service.
Can a task force decide where to put a homeless shelter? Unfortunately, it appears the mayor is taking a page out of the Brad Little/Butch Otter playbook; when in doubt, create a task force! Despite the work of area nonprofits, Boise continues to be a magnet for homeless individuals.
Another concern is the unreported turnover in the Boise Police Department. Without veteran law enforcement, it will be challenging to manage the growing concerns amongst the taxpayers. We've received several reports of the homeless beginning to emulate the behavior that eroded the quality of life in Portland and Seattle. Let's hope the mayor realizes the right priorities in her city.