Boise & Garden City

Boise’s homeless retrieve belongings from Cooper Court, wonder what’s next

Workers (who declined to give their names) conduct an inventory of empty tents at the now fenced off former homeless encampment called Cooper Court in Boise, Idaho. Saturday December 5, 2015
Workers (who declined to give their names) conduct an inventory of empty tents at the now fenced off former homeless encampment called Cooper Court in Boise, Idaho. Saturday December 5, 2015 kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Just 15 of the roughly 135 people ousted from the encampment called Cooper Court stayed at the temporary shelter the city set up at Fort Boise on Friday night.

About 50 people used the hospitality tents that shut down parts of River Street near the Connector exit, where officials offered food, medical care and shuttle service to Fort Boise for counseling, advice on housing and other community services. Boise police could not confirm whether those 50 people were all Cooper Court residents or whether the number included others.

The Fort Boise shelter closed Saturday evening. City spokesman Mike Journee called the operation to disband Cooper Court “very successful.”

“No one was arrested. No one slept in Cooper Court,” he said. “No one slept in those dangerous conditions anymore.”

Some Cooper Court residents who didn’t stay at the shelter turned to hotels.

“I think people don’t go to Fort Boise for the same reason they don’t go to the other shelters: the rules, the regulations. If they were going to go to a shelter, they would go to one where they already know the people,” said JoJo Valdez, who acted as a spokeswoman for Cooper Court. She said she stayed at a hotel Friday night and planned to Saturday night.

“You know, I know they have to have rules and regulations to keep things under control,” she said, “but they could have a certain amount of respect for us as adults.”

Jer-Z, who didn’t give his last name, said he was staying at a hotel for the foreseeable future with money he got from panhandling. He criticized Boise’s removal of the tent city at a vigil hosted by the ACLU on Saturday evening at The Grove Plaza.

“What they did the other day was a travesty,” he said. “You had an open-heart patient and they put a Band-Aid on it.”

TIME-CONSUMING TASK

On Friday, Boise police went to each tent at Cooper Court, telling residents about the resources the city was offering and that they needed to be gone before nightfall. Though there were early morning protests and barricades set up around the encampment, there were no arrests.

It was slow-going, said Boise Bike Patrol Officer Andy Johnson, but that was the only way it could go successfully.

“We want to give as much time as possible, because it’s a very difficult process for people,” he said. “... Giving them as much time as possible seemed like a very reasonable thing to do.”

Police also worked to process the residents’ belongings. Police said they purchased some tents with $125 vouchers and are holding 70 other tents for residents to claim later.

Laura McRoberts, who volunteers at Cooper Court and helped create the nonprofit group Idahomeless, said that though some homeless people were staying in hotels, many had set up camp along the Boise River.

“They’re scattered to the winds,” she said.

‘THEY HAD THAT CHOICE’

Journee said the city did what it could to encourage people to go to a safe place.

“There are choices that are made at some point. People were making choices to be in Cooper Court, and they had a choice to come here, have a meal, a hot shower and talk to the service providers who are here, waiting for them all day yesterday,” he said. “They had that opportunity. They had that choice.”

The city’s state-of-emergency declaration made Friday can last a week, but Journee said Boise will enforce it only when necessary. Reporters were required to have city staff as escorts through the hospitality tents Friday, and some officers and security officials were still keeping the media out of Fort Boise on Saturday morning.

“It was all about protecting people’s privacy, not making a spectacle out of it. Could we have done some things better? Probably. I’m not going to argue with that,” Journee said.

He said the city achieved its goal of peacefully removing people from the camp in the alley next to the Interfaith Sanctuary — a camp the city had asked residents to clear out several weeks ago, citing concerns about the crowded conditions, access for emergency vehicles and the danger from open fires.

Johnson said Boise police would keep working to protect the safety of homeless people, wherever they set up.

“If shelter’s available and they still choose to stay outside, we’re still going to make every effort to keep them safe no matter what the conditions,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work with the community wherever they go.”

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner

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