A protest Tuesday night that was supposed to help the homeless may have cost about 20 homeless people a place to camp through the winter, said Jodi Peterson, a Boise homeless advocate and fundraiser for the Interfaith Sanctuary shelter.
Peterson said she was working with a group of local people in the RV business who had found a piece of land where they would allow 20 or so of Boise’s most vulnerable homeless population to camp for three months.
Those plans went up in smoke after Tuesday night, when dozens of protesters disrupted the Boise City Council meeting, criticizing the city’s operation to evict more than 100 people from Cooper Court, a homeless camp between the I-184 Connector and Interfaith Sanctuary. As the protesters shouted, city staff members briefly evacuated council members. Mayor David Bieter prematurely adjourned the meeting.
Peterson said the businesspeople she’d been working with, whom she did not identify, heard about Tuesday’s demonstration and backed out of the camping proposal.
The business owners were worried that when the time came for the homeless to leave, the same protesters would condemn the exit as a replay of the Cooper Court sweep, casting their business dealings in a bad light, Peterson said.
“The people that were trying to help me can't take the risk that this is going to fall on them,” she said.
Peterson said she was frustrated, because the people who say they’re standing with the homeless are actually hurting homeless people’s chances of finding some safety and stability.
Others have voiced similar opinions in the past few days.
“The property owner pulled out because of what went on at the (Tuesday night) meeting, and I can't blame him,” said JoJo Valdez, a spokeswoman for the homeless campers who said she didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting because she didn’t want to be a part of negativity.
Valdez also criticized the ACLU of Idaho, which she said is “doing more damage than good.” Valdez claimed the ACLU, which has been an active critic of Boise’s actions regarding homeless people, rarely included Cooper Court’s residents in its advocacy plans.
Leo Morales, executive director of ACLU of Idaho, said his group used Facebook to announce a protest Tuesday night at City Hall. But that demonstration was to take place in the plaza outside the building. Morales said he didn’t know a protest would occur inside council chambers.
“In absence of a permanent solution from the city, this has become a very emotional situation where many community members now are reacting in a different manner,” Morales said Wednesday afternoon. “I do hope that the focus doesn't become the tactics that occur there. The focus should continue to remain that community members were displaced. We need more of a long-term solution.”
Morales said he and the ACLU were most disappointed that the city kept the public and news media from witnessing the Cooper Court operation unless they were escorted.
“It's very concerning whenever government is shutting down doors to access to information,” he said.
Peterson and other advocates have worked for months on a variety of options for stable housing of homeless people who don’t want to or can’t stay in shelters. Those options included a permanent village with basic shelters and community rules. Nothing has borne fruit.
The city of Boise is working on long-term solutions that Peterson supports, but she said she’s worried about the transition between now and the realization of those long-term fixes.
She sounded discouraged Wednesday morning.
“These people, I don't know where they're going to go,” she said. “I don't know how to solve it.”