Anita “Drea” and Meaghan “Ray” Sletto celebrated their six-month wedding anniversary March 4 by sharing silver-colored keys they could wear on chains around their necks.
A few days later, Anita was gone. The last place she stayed was in a portable restroom under the Connector next to Boise Fire Station 5. The cause of death: pneumonia, her wife said.
Over the weekend “she was asked twice by the fire station if she wanted medical help,” Meaghan said. Anita turned down the offers out of stubbornness, Meaghan said, but also because she was scared there wouldn’t be enough wrong with her to warrant a hospital stay.
The couple stayed in hotels, parking garages, on friends’ couches, in stairwells and frequently the portable restroom under the Connector.
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“We were afraid they weren’t going to find anything and they were going to send us back outside,” she said.
Throughout the weekend Meaghan and other friends encouraged Anita to seek medical help, but it wasn’t until Monday that she caved and asked Meaghan to call 911.
She “was in the middle of a seizure” when paramedics arrived, Meaghan said.
Paramedics picked her up around 9 p.m. Monday, and she was pronounced dead at about 3:15 a.m. Tuesday at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, Meaghan said.
“They let me stay with her until I was ready to leave,” she said. “They said it was no rush.”
The Statesman could not independently confirm the cause of Anita’s death.
The couple had gotten together amid crisis. In the summer of 2015 both fell into homelessness. Anita recently had gotten out of prison, she told the Statesman in December, and Meaghan’s family kept her at a distance. They set up at Cooper Court — the homeless encampment formerly situated between Americana Boulevard, River Street and the Connector — because they felt discriminated against by shelters for being childless and lesbians. On top of that, Anita had chronic back pain and anxiety that made staying in shelters a stressful experience.
When Cooper Court was disbanded in December, the couple bounced around. First, they tried to move out of Boise. Meaghan said they traveled to Wendell because Anita liked the quiet, and Meaghan was optimistic she could find a job. When that fell through the couple returned to Boise, where Meaghan said they stayed in hotels, parking garages, on friends’ couches, in stairwells and frequently the portable restroom under the Connector.
But they were hopeful, regardless. They wanted to start their own shelter called Home and Aid with No Judgment that would work to accommodate everyone and offer job-training and child-care resources. Meaghan wanted to go to school at the College of Western Idaho.
“We had all these plans,” Meaghan said.
NOT THE FIRST
Anita appears to be the second former Cooper Court resident to have died this year. Perry Woodard, 48, was found dead in Julia Davis Park in late January.
The city of Boise is not formally tracking people who used to live in the homeless camp. “By the nature of the situation, it’s kind of a hard thing to do,” said Mike Journee, spokesman for the mayor’s office. But bicycle police are keeping a general eye on where people are staying and trying to keep them informed of services that could help them, he said.
After the camp was broken up, the city offered its residents a night at the Fort Boise Community Center and a chance to connect to longer-term resources there. The Slettos did stop by there, but apparently left and then were able to stay in a hotel room provided elsewhere. Meaghan said the couple were told to use Fort Boise as their last option. Journee said the couple likely left as officials were working out how to accommodate some special requests they had.
For more than a year, Boise has worked toward what officials hope will be a long-term salve: a Housing First program that puts homeless people in permanent homes where support services, such as treatment for physical and mental ailments, addiction and other problems, are readily available.
But the city was criticized in the days following its actions at Cooper Court for not having a short-term plan for the tent city’s former residents. On Thursday, Journee pointed out the existing shelters that operate in Boise and said the city is still looking for landlords willing to accept homeless tenants who could move in now.
“I haven’t heard lately that there’s any problem with capacity,” he said. “And yes, there are compromises to stay in a shelter. But obviously, staying in the street is a more dangerous proposition.”
PLANS FOR MEMORIAL
After Anita died, Meaghan went to Corpus Christi House around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to tell friends and Anita’s family.
Even on Thursday, as she walked through the shelter, Meaghan could hardly take five steps without getting stopped by someone who shared condolences, encouragement, a “let me know if you need anything” or just a hug. She said she was bombarded with text messages (she ran out of minutes on her cellphone, so could get only texts).
“They want to make sure I won’t do anything, won’t hurt myself,” she said. “We’re a family.”
You shouldn’t die from complications of pneumonia.
Kaitlyn Stettnichs, service coordinator for Corpus Christi
The Corpus Christi staff will host a private memorial for Anita at 11 a.m. next Thursday.
When homeless people die, it’s sometimes hard to find a space to memorialize them, said Kaitlyn Stettnichs, service coordinator for Corpus Christi. But it’s important to give friends and family a proper spot to grieve.
Though it’s hard to determine whether any particular death is preventable, Stettnichs said, “You shouldn’t die from complications of pneumonia.”
Meaghan plans to start staying at City Light Home for Women and she hopes to find work to get back on her feet. Ultimately, she wants to pursue the dream she and Anita shared.
“I’m not going to give up,” she said. “I want to open up our shelter.”