Boise Unveils Promised Plan To Permanently House The Homeless

Feb 10, 2016

The City of Boise and a handful of nonprofit and public sector partners Tuesday announced a new program to house the area’s chronically homeless population. The plan would first put 15 homeless people in existing apartments for a cost of about $300,000 a year. Those would be owned by the city, the county housing authority and private landlords. KBSX previewed this plan in October

Phase two would build a 25-unit apartment complex. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association has put out a request for proposal to find a developer or coalition of developers and service providers to build and manage that. The quasi-governmental association is offering nearly $6 million worth of tax credits for that project and the city is offering a million dollars, as well.

But housing is only part of what’s known as the housing first or permanent supportive housing model. It also includes what are sometimes called "wrap-around" services according to Wyatt Schroeder, the head of CATCH, one of the partners in the project.

“Once people are housed, we’re going to be able to build what we’re calling intensive, team-based care,” Schroeder says. “And basically this is going to be a 24-hour model to work as often as possible as intensively as possible with a very diverse team to address those needs.”

That team could include social, healthcare and mental health workers, as well as substance abuse counselors. The team’s job would be to help the newly housed people keep their apartments.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told reporters that the city and its partners are embarking on the project out of moral duty. But Bieter also says it makes financial sense. He says the estimated 100 chronically homeless people in Ada County cost taxpayers at least $5.3 million dollars a year through things like police, courts and medical care.

“We believe, and it’s been backed up with an awful lot of research and work, that a fraction of those costs [$1.6 million a year] would provide a much better route for these individuals to take, and we’re hopeful in that many of those cases actually address those root causes and get them out of homelessness,” Bieter said.

Homeless advocates have been waiting for this plan for some time. For several months last year Boise watched a homeless tent city grow near downtown. Boise police eventually dispersed the camp known as Cooper Court in December. The city drew criticism from some homeless advocates for the circumstances that led to the camp and then for shutting it down.

All the while, city leaders responded that they were working on a long-term plan. When Bieter unveiled this long-anticipated plan, he referred to Cooper Court as a stark example of an alternative to homelessness that is, “not the way to go.”

“What we said then but now what we’re reinforcing with these first actions . . . this is the way to go. These are the models that we know are evidence based and will work. And we want our community to get behind these efforts.”

This plan is the kind of solution even many of the city’s harshest critics have called for. It’s based on programs pioneered by cities like Salt Lake. But this long-term solution will take a long time. Phases one and two may help 40 people over the next two or three years. Bieter says eventually the city and its partners will house all the 100 estimated chronically homeless people in Ada County. But there is no phase three yet.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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