Boise ‘has a chance ... to solve the homelessness issue,’ and sees apartment complex as a major step

The New Path Community Housing facility located on Fairview Avenue officially opened its doors Thursday morning, offering a new option for the chronically homeless and, the city of Boise hopes, striking a blow in the ongoing fight against a problem that has plagued society.

Standing on what used to be the Twin Dragon restaurant, New Path will house 40 homeless individuals based on need, according to Charitable Assistance To Community’s Homeless executive director Wyatt Schroeder. Need is based on three factors, Schroeder said: long-term homelessness, disabling conditions and a high utility of emergency care.

Health service providers and counselors are available on site for residents, though they are not mandated. That’s part of New Path’s Housing First mantra, which subscribes to the belief that housing is the most important factor to combating homelessness, followed by eliminating substance abuse and treating mental health issues.

“We’re bringing chronically homeless individuals in and having them housed first, and then after they’re housed, bringing them some intensive supportive services to try to stabilize that population,” Idaho Housing and Finance Association President Gerald Hunter said.

Several speakers, including Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, addressed the media about New Path, which is Idaho’s first Housing First development.

“It means so much to get to this point, and all the work and the effort that went into it is really exceptional,” Bieter said.

Why now?

The need for a facility such as New Path became apparent in 2014, when Boise began ticketing and kicking out the homeless living near Rhodes Skate Park under the Interstate 184 overpass. Per previous Statesman reporting, the homeless didn’t just “go away”; they instead migrated to Cooper Court, just a little south of the overpass, and were eventually kicked out of there.

In 2015, city leaders and local government came to the consensus that the way to end homelessness wasn’t to kick people out of their living spaces; instead, it was to provide them with a place to live that simultaneously provided vital services.

The cost of construction of New Path was $7.3 million. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association sold federal tax credits to raise $5.83 million and received an additional $500,000 from a federal program; Boise contributed $1 million.

The building was co-developed by The Pacific Companies and Northwest Integrity Housing Company.

Rent and utility costs are covered by the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, which will give nearly $4.5 million over 15 years, per previous Statesman reporting. St. Luke’s Health System and Saint Alphonsus Health System each gave $100,000 for supportive services. Terry Reilly is providing health services at the site.

A total of 21 partners contributed to New Path Housing.

The cost might seem steep to some, but officials have pointed out consistently that it pales in comparison to what it costs providing emergency services for those on the street. Bieter cited Boise State researchers, who determined that the homeless population costs about $5.3 million a year in services (emergency, police, court, etc.). New Path, on the other hand, costs about one-quarter to one-third of that, with services included, Bieter said.

“Not only is this a better way of going about helping these folks, but it’s just so much smarter,” Bieter said.

What does it look like?

As of Thursday morning, 27 of the 40 occupants have moved into their apartments at New Path. A standard apartment includes a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, a refrigerator, stoves and ovens, and several closets.

There is a common room in the lobby that has a television, and there are a computer room and exercise room on the first floor.

New Path is staffed with a case manager, a counselor/social worker, two peer support specialists, a housing specialist and a part-time registered nurse, according to Kendra Lutes, case manager at Terry Reilly Health Services.

There is also security that performs rounds after 7 p.m. on weekdays, entering the building once every hour. On weekends, security is in the facility from 7 p.m. on Friday to 7 a.m. on Sunday, Lutes said.

The facility itself is not substance free; instead, it is considered “harm-reduction.”

“Illegal drug use would be a violation of the lease … but we are going to work with people from a harm-reduction standpoint, really trying to reduce any harm that would come to them from using any substances,” Lutes said.

Does it solve a problem?

Housing at New Path is not necessarily considered transitional; the expectation is that residents can move out when they are ready to live in a residence that is “less service-dependent,” Bieter said. He termed the duration of each person’s stay at New Path as “indefinite.”

Caleb Roope, the president of The Pacific Companies and co-developer of New Path, said his organization has built 10,000 affordable-housing units. The building itself solves only part of the problem, he said.

“The next half of the job is really making an environment for people to have their lives changed,” Roope said. “And that’s where the heavy burden falls on the service providers … and the management company.”

If it proves successful, New Path could be a step toward ending homelessness in Boise, Roope said.

“I do believe that this city has a chance, this county has a chance, to solve the homelessness issue,” he said. “We do have the resources, the manpower, the will and the care enough as a community to get it done.”