For the first time in Ada County, homeless people can find housing, health care and other services with a single stop.
That stop, called Our Path Home, consists of director Stephanie Day and a team of interns, most of whom are Boise State University students. They assess the needs of people referred to them, and then connect them with organizations that address those needs directly. People who have the greatest need or have been homeless the longest move to the front of the line.
Between May 1 and Thursday afternoon, Day said, her team consulted with 264 families who are homeless or on the verge. Fifty-five of those families have found new homes, some on their own and some with assistance from charities or government organizations.
“It’s kind of like an ER for housing interventions,” said Diana Lachiondo, director of community partnerships for the city of Boise. “If you go to the ER and you’re bleeding from your head, you’re going to get prioritized over the guy who cut his finger.”
Separately, on Wednesday, a mix of public officials and private organizations came together at a lot along Fairview Avenue to mark the start of construction of a 40-unit housing complex for the chronically homeless. New Path Community Housing represents a similar mixing of of a host of local governments and other groups, united in a new approach to tackling Boise’s homelessness issues.
Until recently, homeless people in Ada County had to navigate the maze of service providers on their own to get housing vouchers, health care, counseling, job training and other assistance. And just a couple of years ago, the city, county and many local organizations were all on different pages regarding how to address homelessness.
“Though we were well-intentioned, we as a community were retraumatizing the same population we were trying to help,” said Wyatt Schroeder, executive director of CATCH of Ada County, an organization that operates Our Path Home as part of its mission to solve homelessness. “It’s a very traumatic process to be, let’s say, discharged from a hospital to an emergency shelter, to putting your name on maybe 13 waiting lists around the county, to having to retell your story 13 times, to not being sure when your name next comes up on the list.”
The end result of Our Path Home is that more homeless people will get off the street and into the treatment they need, local homelessness experts say. That should make them healthier, and that should save taxpayer money by reducing trips to the county jail, hospitals and courtrooms.
It’s the first time anyone in Idaho has set up a single-point program to help homeless people, Schroeder said. And, much as it brings services together in one spot, it required a city-spanning partnership to get to this point.
‘HOBO HANGOUT’ TO NEW PATH
Ada County’s response to homelessness has come a long way in the past three years.
In 2014, the city of Boise took its first steps to break up a homeless camp under the bridge where the I-184 Connector crosses Americana Boulevard and 15th Street. City leaders said they were worried about the safety and health of people in the camp, which people who stayed there informally named “Hobo Hangout.”
The city ticketed people living there for breaking a law prohibiting camping in public spaces. But homeless people didn’t just go away. After the city fenced off the areas under the bridge for an overhaul of Rhodes Skate Park, the camp shifted into the alleys just south of the Connector — an area known as Cooper Court.
On Dec. 4, 2015, the city kicked out everyone who was camping in Cooper Court. Controversial as that move was, it coincided with a turning point in the local response to homelessness.
Over the course of 2015, the city of Boise hosted a series of meetings with leaders of local governments, businesses and charities in hopes of finding ways to address homelessness in Ada County. Toward the end of the year, those stakeholders came to a consensus: The most important step to solving homelessness was to provide permanent supportive housing, which gives people homes and access to supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
New Path Community Housing will sit on Fairview Avenue between 22nd and 23rd streets, and it will provide homes for 40 chronically homeless people. Its construction will cost $7.3 million.
Wednesday’s ceremony was the culmination of the last three years of soul-searching on homelessness in the Treasure Valley.
Idaho Housing and Finance sold federal tax credits to raise $5.83 million for New Path’s construction and added $500,000 from a federal program that promotes affordable housing. The city of Boise chipped in $1 million.
The Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority will contribute about $4.5 million over the next 15 years to cover rent and utility costs, executive director Deanna Watson said Wednesday. The housing authority’s money will come from its voucher program, which provides about $12 million every year in rental assistance, Watson said.
Ada County pledged $250,000 to New Path to help pay for supportive services. St. Luke’s Health System and Saint Alphonsus Health System pledged $100,000 apiece.
If construction stays on schedule, New Path’s first tenants will start moving in late next year, Idaho Housing and Finance spokeswoman Lorie O’Donley said.
If the project is effective at getting homeless people off the street, the city, county and hospitals stand to save money because homeless people will have fewer health emergencies and legal run-ins they can’t pay for. BSU researcher Vanessa Fry estimated that a person who lives on the street costs local governments and hospitals a total of $53,000 per year. Housing that person in a project like New Path would cost about $16,000 annually.
Like the Housing First project, Our Path Home needed a lot of organizations to get involved.
The list of service providers includes everything from the Boise Police Department and Idaho Department of Labor to local emergency shelters, the housing authority, Terry Reilly Health Services and Head Start.
Schroeder’s promotion of the program also impressed local business leaders, who donated $50,000 through a collaboration called Together Treasure Valley. The money will give Our Path Home its own entrance and other upgrades at CATCH’s headquarters, located next to Interfaith Sanctuary at 503 S. Americana Blvd., in Boise.
Debra Leithauser, publisher of the Idaho Statesman and the person who spearheaded Together Treasure Valley, said the group’s contribution shows a broad recognition in the Treasure Valley that addressing homelessness is a community responsibility.
So far, Our Path Home has dealt exclusively with families, Schroeder said. By the end of this year, he said, Day and her team will begin assessments of single adults.
With the exception of the New Path housing project, Our Path Home is “the most important thing that this community has done on homelessness in years,” Lachiondo said.
Schroeder agrees. As a Housing First proponent, he believes that homes are what homeless people really need.
“Our Path Home, as great a program as it is, it doesn’t create new housing inventory,” he said.