Boise Bench Dwellers is a popular Facebook group that allows city residents to ask for recommendations, post photos of missing/found pets and share other news.
The neighborhood group has about 14,400 members — some of whom don’t actually live on the Bench, or even in the city. Many posts still reflect a small-town feel.
“We are celebrating one year cancer free!” wrote a woman who posted a photo of her dog on the group’s page Thursday. “Where’s the best dog treat store? We want to get her something special.”
About 170 people “liked” the post, and 35 people offered up congratulations and tips on where to get dog treats. Bark n’ Purr on Vista Avenue got the most nods.
Sometimes member posts and discussions can get heated, though. Angry exchanges between two people earlier this year escalated into an ongoing conflict outside of the online forum — and that’s what led to the group page being shut down for a day or so.
“They went into each other’s personal pages and started battling it out,” said Sarah Cunningham, the 45-year-old Boisean who launched the group about six years ago.
Cunningham wants the forum to be a positive resource for people in the community. She and six other volunteer administrators/moderators don’t want to spend all of their free time policing negative and nasty comments, which they believe can create a “toxic” environment for users. So this week they announced a new “zero tolerance” policy for “anti-California, anti-out of staters, Idaho-elitist posts/comments/images.”
“Being an Idahoan and being a Boise Bench Dweller is NOT about making anyone feel unwelcome here,” Boise Bench Dwellers moderator Carolyn Lucile Kaufman warned members. “It is also NOT about you determining who does and does not qualify as a true/legitimate Idahoan. Please practice a little more kindness and tolerance and acceptance and leave your non-neighborly agendas on your personal pages.”
The response to the post from members was largely positive: 589 “liked” it, while 222 hit “love.”
Some responded with #BoiseKind, a reference to the city’s new initiative to promote kindness as the city grows and changes.
“Soooo ... no more selling ‘we’re full’ stickers?” one Boise Bench Dweller member asked Kaufman.
“Correct,” Kaufman said.
“Damit [sic]. They where [sic] a great seller on here. But I can respect that.”
Cunningham was born and raised in Boise, spending much of her youth outdoors playing in the Foothills.
“I was kind of a feral child,” she said.
She’s a 1991 Capital High graduate who went on to get her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Boise State University. She runs several businesses, including Ethos Design & Remodel, Ethos Real Estate, Ethos Development and Ethos Homes.
“I sometimes have a Pollyanna notion of what community should be — people coming together and working together,” Cunningham said. “But this (Facebook group) page has been eye-opening ... When people start shredding each other and tearing each other down, that’s when we jump in.”
One Boise Bench Dweller member asked the admins to reconsider their ban on bashing Californians and other newcomers.
“It affects us all so deeply. Our cost of living has increased significantly and it has become a rat race to survive here competing with an influx of new people,” he wrote. “Wages, housing and everything else is way out of equilibrium to what it once was for those of us that have been in this area for some time. I think the zero tolerance policy should be removed, people just want to survive and it is a way to vent.”
Kaufman told him they can vent on their own pages.
“This page doesn’t exist for everyone to gripe and complain about every inconvenience in their life, especially if they see that inconvenience as being their own neighbors and community members,” she wrote.
Cunningham sees the anger at newcomers from California and other states as bigotry.
“There’s a lot of anger in the community because we have substandard wages that aren’t keeping up with the cost of living,” Cunningham said. “That’s not something you blame on people moving here.”