Boise closes day shelter for homeless, direct funds to Interfaith Sanctuary

The city of Boise has closed its Pioneer Neighborhood Community Center, which has provided day-shelter services to families experiencing homelessness.

The city, instead, is planning to direct some of the money it spent on Pioneer to Interfaith Sanctuary Shelter, which this month will begin offering day-shelter services seven days a week.

“We’re super excited,” said Jodi Peterson-Stigers, executive director of Interfaith Sanctuary, which already operates a day shelter Monday through Friday and an overnight emergency shelter seven days a week. “Our goal (with the new weekend day-shelter hours) is to reduce the trauma from having nowhere to go on the weekends and continue to build up our guests so they can get the services they need seven days a week. The weekend can be a huge backslide.”

The city of Boise was spending about $17,000 per year operating Pioneer, said Mike Journee, spokesman for Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. The city will take that money and direct $11,000 to help Interfaith Sanctuary operate during the day on the weekends and $6,000 to the city’s Parks and Recreation work program that employs Interfaith Sanctuary guests.

Interfaith Sanctuary raised another $15,000 during its annual fundraising gala Saturday night at JUMP to match the city’s contribution.

It costs $15,000 per year to operate an additional day with two staffers, said Peterson-Stigers, so the gala donation will cover one weekend day, and the $11,000 from the city will cover most of another weekend day. The rest of the money will come from Interfaith Sanctuary’s budget, Peterson-Stigers said. Weekend hours at Interfaith Sanctuary are scheduled to begin Oct. 26.

Journee said that when Interfaith Sanctuary opened its day shelter in November 2017, attendance at Pioneer began to decline, so it made sense to close Pioneer and rely on Interfaith Sanctuary to provide those services.

So what is the city going to do with Pioneer Neighborhood Community Center, 500 Ash St.?

The plan is to lease it out to Jesse Tree, a private, nonprofit housing-services provider that already occupies 1,200 square feet at 1121 W. Miller St., which is adjacent and connected to the Pioneer building.

On Tuesday night, Boise City Council members are scheduled to consider approving a lease with Jesse Tree to rent out the 2,100 square feet of space at 500 Ash St. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in council chambers at Boise City Hall, 150 Capitol Blvd.

“Jesse Tree wanted to expand but didn’t have the space to provide the services they want to provide,” Journee said. “This made sense.”

Journee said one of the city’s main goals is to prevent homelessness, noting that 87 percent of those coming to Our Path Home, the city’s homelessness initiative, are experiencing it for the first time. Jesse Tree “has been an important partner” in the city’s strategic prevention effort, he said.

Jesse Tree provides assistance to low-income households struggling to pay rent, at risk of eviction or in the midst of eviction, according to Jesse Tree’s website. Jesse Tree helps by providing case management, financial assistance to cover rental arrears and referrals to other community services and resources.

Jesse Tree, which has been around for 20 years providing homelessness-prevention services, has a success rate of 98 percent, according to Jesse Tree’s new executive director, Ali Rabe.

Over the past two years, Jesse Tree has assisted 711 households, and of those, 699 are still in their housing, said Rabe. Rabe is a Middleton High School and College of Idaho graduate who spent a couple years doing homelessness work in the San Francisco Bay Area before coming back to the Treasure Valley to take over Jesse Tree about six months ago.

Over the past 20 years, Jesse Tree has helped 8,000 individuals and 3,000 families and provided $2.5 million in rental assistance, Rabe said.

Most people who are experiencing homelessness are in that position because of a change in employment, whether it’s a cut in hours, pay or loss of job, a health care crisis or a car breakdown, which leads to falling behind in rent, eviction and eventual homelessness, Rabe said.

From there, “Homelessness gets more and more expensive with each passing day,” Rabe said. “What homelessness does to an individual and the cost to the community rises exponentially.”

Rabe is hoping to expand services through its housing crisis line, 208-383-9486, and providing more case management, computer lab space, a training center and more in the expanded space.

Currently, Jesse Tree is able to help only about a third of the clients who call in seeking assistance, Rabe said.

With an annual budget of less than a half-million dollars and three employees, Rabe is hoping to increase fundraising efforts and partnerships to serve more clients. About 80 percent of Jesse Tree’s budget goes directly to helping clients, Rabe said. Preventing homelessness costs on average about $800 per client, Rabe said, while getting a homeless person back into a home costs as much as $10,000, and she cited a study by Boise State University researcher Vanessa Fry that estimated that a person who lives on the street costs local governments and hospitals a total of $53,000 per year. So an $800 investment in prevention pays off.

Under terms of a lease agreement that will be before City Council members Tuesday, Jesse Tree eventually would pay $1,200 per month to occupy both spaces at Miller Street and Ash Street, for a total of 3,341 square feet.

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Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.