Boise & Garden City

Boise police warn homeless again

City officials put up a fence in the Cooper Court area to curb the growing encampment.
City officials put up a fence in the Cooper Court area to curb the growing encampment.

For now, Boise police officers are just trying to educate people camped in Cooper Court — the alleys behind Corpus Christi and Interfaith Sanctuary, both homeless shelters — that they're breaking the law and asking them to move out voluntarily, city spokesman Mike Journee said.

People camping at Cooper Court are breaking a city law that prohibits sleeping in public spaces and having open fires, Journee said. But, he said, the city is more concerned about the camp blocking access for emergency vehicles and safety issues such as open fires.

City authorities worry the conditions at Cooper Court — drug use, people living in tents so close to each other, open fires, propane tanks, etc. — make it ripe for a disaster if the camp continues in its present form.

Others say the city is exaggerating the severity of the situation.

"There's that risk in any neighborhood," said Jodi Peterson, who handles fundraising and programs for Sanctuary.

What if Cooper Court’s residents refuse to leave?

Journee said the city is “working on plans” for the next move. He said those details aren’t set.

The city of Boise has tried this approach before. In September 2014, officers people issued warnings to people camped under the bridge where the Connector crosses Americana Boulevard and 15th Street. They wrote dozens of tickets but failed to break up the camp.

The camp moved west a little after a project to renovate Rhodes Park, a skate park under the Connector between Americana and 15th, brought temporary fences that walled off the bridge area.

Meanwhile, two of the six plaintiffs in a 2009 case against the city have appealed a federal judge's September dismissal of the lawsuit, which argued the city's public camping law is unconstitutional because it essentially criminalizes homelessness.

The plaintiffs are asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling, which relied on the fact that several plaintiffs had acquired housing or become difficult to find in the time since they filed the suit.

“We were disappointed that the district court chose to dismiss this case on procedural grounds rather than rule on the substance of our argument - that people experiencing homelessness in Boise are being denied their constitutional rights based on their status,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the group that filed the appeal.