The special meeting hosted at City Hall Wednesday morning between Mayor Dave Bieter and advocates for the recently displaced residents of Cooper Court ended abruptly when attendees began chanting “Do something now” and Bieter left the room.
Bieter organized the meeting Tuesday night after protests forced an early end to a scheduled Boise City Council meeting.
Wednesday, people who showed up at the City Council’s chambers were told the city had scheduled an hour for the meeting. Speakers were each given two minutes to talk, and then Bieter said he’d answer questions at the end.
The mayor got through the entire list of people who wanted to speak on the issue, but at the end of the hour Bieter ended the meeting when he was unable to speak over voices in the audience. Many advocates had run over time, and expressed impatience at the mayor for not laying out a clear and immediate plan for addressing homelessness in Boise.
Though Bieter had warned the end of the hour was coming up, he started to answer questions, saying, “There’s a point where we’re going to have to agree to disagree on: and that’s the sustainability of Cooper Court. With all due respect ... I think the probability, not just the possibility of something catastrophic happening in that area was increasing by the day.”
At that point, the attendees started speaking over the mayor — one person shouted a profanity while calling the mayor a “fascist” — and Bieter closed the meeting.
“Our main purpose for this meeting was to give people an opportunity to speak their mind about this issue. Most who spoke were respectful of others and thoughtful in their comments,” said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Bieter. “Unfortunately, a very disruptive minority in the meeting did not give the mayor an opportunity to address the questions others asked and drowned out his words whenever he tried to tell them about his and the city’s perspective.”
“He could have stayed around and listened. He had other priorities over us. But this isn’t done,” said former Cooper Court resident Don Brown, who added he’s been staying on shelter floors and on the streets since leaving his tent. “Next step is more protesting until our voice is heard.”
One participant asked Bieter whether he knew how many homeless people who stay at shelters slept on floors Tuesday night.
“I don’t know personally,” the mayor said, when pressed to answer. “We know collectively.”
Barbara Kemp, president of the Boise/Ada County Homeless Coalition, argued at the meeting that the city’s move to remove Cooper Court was misguided.
“Cooper Court was sustainable, had it been supported instead of thwarted at every turn,” she said at the podium. When she ran out of time, many of the attendees called for her to get more time and even volunteered to give up their own time for her to speak longer.
Raymond Simmons, a homeless Boise resident who frequently stays at Interfaith Sanctuary, asked city officials and Bieter to include homeless people in the conversation around seeking solutions.
If homeless people weren’t included at the table, he said, “It’s only going to get worse and worse.”