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Sanctuary director, city communicated about new shelter. They say it’s not coordination

City of Boise officials have been in contact with Interfaith Sanctuary about the possibility of the emergency shelter moving to a new location, but both sides say the city is not supporting the project.

New emails between Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers and City of Boise staff obtained by BoiseDev show multiple conversations between the nonprofit and various city officials in the past six months. Peterson-Stigers initiated nearly all of the emails and none of them discuss funding the relocation of Interfaith Sanctuary with taxpayer dollars.

[Homelessness on wheels: Boise Police, social workers launch new initiative for those living in vehicles in downtown Boise]

These emails are in addition to those that BoiseDev reviewed previously, and include more conversations that did not show up in our January records request.A neighbor of the proposed shelter obtained the records under Idaho’s public records law and provided them. Citizen Rory Hester also previously published some of the emails.

An application for the proposal has not yet been submitted to the City of Boise. An online neighborhood meeting is scheduled for February 10.

Officials involved in the emails include Director of Planning & Development Mark Lavin, Director of Community Partnerships Shirley O’Neil, and Boise’s Senior Manager of Housing and Community Development Maureen Brewer. Peterson-Stigers also held at least two meetings in the past year with Mayor Lauren McLean and the Boise Police Department took her up on a request to do some digging for statistics on crime near locations with services for people experiencing homelessness.

An email from one Boise Police Sergeant about the project also likened the opposing neighbors to “angry hoards.” Shortly after the publication of this story, Boise Police Department spokesperson Haley Williams said the department does have a position on the project, but is working to address the effects of moving the shelter.

“When we heard one of the shelters was considering a move we recognized that it would create a strong reaction from people living nearby,” Williams said. “Again, it’s not our role to support or not support, but we do engage in a proactive community policing model which means we have to consider possible impacts of the move and come up with ways to help mitigate crimes and the fear of crimes. That was the extent of our involvement.”

City says conversations, not coordination

But, the city says just because they talked with Peterson-Stigers doesn’t mean they are working with her, or are even in support of, her proposal for a larger homeless shelter on State Street. City spokesperson Seth Ogilvie said the city values Interfaith Sanctuary as a partner in providing shelter for those experiencing homelessness, which is why they had so many communications with her.  

“We value Interfaith’s commitment to providing overnight shelter to our residents experiencing homelessness while building a system better positioned to put everyone experiencing homelessness back on a path to permanent housing,” he wrote in an email to BoiseDev.

“The city is aware of Interfaith’s ambition to relocate and create new shelter space and aware that the current shelter space does not suffice to meet the need – especially amidst the pandemic. That said, the city’s investments and partnerships are focused on the solution to homelessness: housing.”

Peterson-Stigers said the same thing in an interview Thursday afternoon. She said her meetings with the city and McLean helped inform the administration about the progress on the project.

A mural on the exterior of Interfaith Sanctuary’s current location on River Street. Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

“We’re a major partner on the homeless issue in this community and it’s an important issue for the mayor,” she said. “We never, ever put (McLean) in the position to make up her mind on the project. It’s not the city’s project. This is Interfaith Sanctuary’s project.”

The emails also show that Peterson-Stigers reached out to City Council Member Patrick Bageant for a meeting last fall. He told BoiseDev he had two meetings with her, but that does not mean he is in support of the concept. Bageant said the first meeting last fall was only about how to fund homelessness in Boise and the second one, in January, was about her plan for the new shelter.

“I haven’t been coordinating with her,” Bageant said. “If anybody wants to call me and talk to me about something they can, but it better not be under the impression I am helping them coordinate it… From everything I know, this is Jodi doing Jodi stuff and the city isn’t part of it.”

Presentation to homelessness partnership

The City of Boise is a major part of Ada County’s continuum of care called Our Path Home. This is a public-private partnership required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop a system for each community to address homelessness so individual organizations are not handling it alone.

Brewer, who now heads up all of housing and community development for the City of Boise, used to serve as the coordinator for the continuum care and is still holding the position in the meantime. Peterson-Stigers said she was sending emails to Brewer to keep her updated on the project.

She did make a presentation on the project to the Executive Committee of Our Path Home, which is made up of a number of nonprofits in Ada County. This is why Peterson-Stigers said she sent Brewer site plans for the project and the city has a copy of a Powerpoint presentation about the proposal for State Street.

“One of the reasons Boise is as good as they are on homelessness is because we work closely together,” Peterson-Stigers said. “Our Path Home is a really vital part of us getting coordinated entry going, being able to adapt to COVID-19 and figuring out housing and bringing supportive services. We are super open with that committee and I don’t want that to be confused as us working with the Mayor.”

So, what’s in the emails?

The new emails obtained by BoiseDev show Peterson-Stigers sent updates about the project to various city employees in recent months.

Starting in mid-August, she emailed Lavin, Brewer, and O’Neil about the possibility of purchasing the Red Lion hotel in downtown Boise and turning it into a shelter she dubbed “Second Chance Inn & University.” The Powerpoint included the logos for the City of Boise, the Albertson Family Foundation, the Idaho Housing, and Finance Association and Interfaith Sanctuary at the bottom.

In an email, she said the presentation would be able to show “what a project like this could offer to our homeless population.”

Lavin later linked Peterson-Stigers and Interfaith Sanctuary Board President Andy Scoggin to commercial real estate broker Sam McCaskill via email to discuss purchasing the Red Lion. The project halted when the owner of the Red Lion said he would only sell the building for over $80,000 per room, which was out of Interfaith Sanctuary’s budget.

When this got turned down, Lavin responded to the broker and forwarded to O’Neil and Brewer “Sometimes, a quick no is the best answer!”

Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson. Courtesy of Interfaith Sanctuary.

The broker then suggested Peterson-Stigers consider purchasing the downtown Boise Inn, which was previously offered for sale for roughly $3 million, McCaskill said. Lavin, O’Neil and Brewer were kept in the loop on the shift to a new location, which Brewer called “a great prospect.” This purchase didn’t go through either. The owner of the hotel hung up on the broker.

After this news, Peterson-Stigers sent a filer McCaskill found for her about the State Street property to O’Neil and Brewer. She then invited Brewer and O’Neil to come on a walkthrough of the State Street site before putting an offer on the building, which Brewer declined because of a personal commitment elsewhere.

O’Neil emailed Peterson-Stigers back saying she could attend, but Ogilvie, a city spokesperson, and Peterson-Stigers say she canceled. 

On December 11, Brewer also emailed Jodi asking to “talk through” the possibility of new shelter space and the city’s work to launch a campaign to end the wait time for families experiencing homelessness to receive services in the next few years.

‘Angry hoards’

Boise Police Department was also in the mix.

Peterson-Stigers forwarded an email she received from a resident on January 15 asking questions about statistics on crime near places where those experiencing homeless spend time. She suggested sharing the statistics with the public at an upcoming neighborhood meeting on the project.

In an email from Sergeant Darren Miller to Capt. Paul Burch, who heads up BPD’s Community Outreach Division, Miller said he will work with Crime Prevention Supervisor Ed Fritz to prepare the statistics and talking points for the neighborhood meeting. BPD will also be meeting with Peterson-Stigers to prepare for the neighborhood meeting and discuss potential solutions related to moving the shelter.

“We should be in good shape, just need to keep back the angry hoards long enough to get our solution options out in the community,” Miller wrote.

Fritz wrote Miller back later that day, saying he had the stats for the area near Interfaith Sanctuary and that they “don’t paint too positive a picture” for overall crime. However, he noted the reports were “quality of life issues” and “not so much” violent crime.

When asked if BPD was supportive of her proposal for the new shelter, Peterson-Stigers said she doesn’t know.

“I don’t know if I’ve asked them,” she said. “We just work together on homelessness and I don’t know if I’ve ever said ‘are you guys supportive of this?’ I don’t know if I can gauge their support.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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