Given the level of complication and the difficult circumstances involved in attempting to care for a community’s homeless population, we feel the effort by the city of Boise to vacate Cooper Court was a necessary action carried out in a lawful, orderly and humane way.
Anyone living there had been warned for days and weeks that they must find an alternative living arrangement. The unsanitary and unsafe conditions were only going to get worse with the weather. There was evidence tents had caught fire, and the probability of more fires and other hazards associated with living outdoors in winter was going to increase.
But the city knows that closing down homeless encampments, such as the underpass last summer and now Cooper Court, does not constitute a comprehensive, long-term policy to deal with a vulnerable community.
Only a fraction of the estimated 135 residents of Cooper Court elected to take advantage of the services the city and its partners offered over the weekend, including assistance to get them into a temporary shelter. The majority of the displaced homeless have not been helped, just dispersed.
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But a couple of goals were achieved: closing the unsafe encampment, and making it clear beds are available in local shelters.
The fact is, we have a homeless population that is not taking advantage of the shelter beds. Some of the reasons for that — shelter rules, lack of privacy, the stated desire to be treated as adults — might have some solutions. Can we find facilitators adept at working with the shelter-resistant homeless, those who avoid institutions for various reasons? In the short term, if we can match them up with the right living situation, it will be much easier to help them find a job, the right treatment or another path to independence.
In the long term, the great ongoing conversations about how to help the homeless have to be punctuated with more action, or we’ll face more Cooper Courts.
During the Boise mayoral election, Mayor Dave Bieter called for a communitywide “barn-raising” to address homelessness in the Treasure Valley. He cited the cooperative model of Allumbaugh House, where stakeholders from all levels of government, health care providers, faith groups and nonprofits worked to provide assistance to a constituency — many of whom are homeless — and start a much-needed substance abuse treatment facility.
We need to use that model again. We are encouraged that excellent discussions are underway around the concept of Permanent Supportive Housing Options, which would combine services and a larger variety of living spaces — everything from more affordable housing units to more adaptable housing or shelter situations, which could provide more privacy for clients.
With the right people and the right model in front of us, it’s time to transform the talk into deadlines and build that barn.
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