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Boise’s homeless community on pros and cons of Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposed move

The immediate neighbors and business owners aren’t the only ones impacted by Interfaith Sanctuary finding a new home.

Starting in January, BoiseDev began to take a close look at the proposed relocation of Interfaith Sanctuary to State Street. We’ve heard from concerned neighbors, talked with Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers, requested comment from the City of Boise, and scrutinized hundreds of emails from developers to city officials about the area near the current location. 

BoiseDev wanted to talk to some of the people impacted most by the move: members of the homeless community. 

[Project Tracker: Interfaith Sanctuary State St.]

We went out in search of residents of Interfaith Sanctuary and other members of the community to interview last week about the project. This is not a scientific survey and did not include anyone inside of Interfaith Sanctuary’s building or on their property. It also excluded members of the homeless community who were working at the time or families experiencing homelessness staying at a hotel offsite as part of the shelter’s expansion during the pandemic. 

Interview subjects were identified by BoiseDev staff, not coordinated or approved by anyone at the shelter.

‘Not that far’ from downtown

Of the nearly a dozen people experiencing homelessness interviewed for this story, the majority were not aware of the proposed project or any specific details. Most of them said they did not feel comfortable expressing a firm opinion unless they had seen the plans for themselves, but they agreed that the shelter should be upgraded and accommodate better services for the homeless community.

“I haven’t heard anything about it, but it would be a good idea,” Interfaith Sanctuary guest Warren Schliep, 71, said while eating breakfast at Corpus Christi House day shelter. “The homeless need a place to stay.”

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

One of the questions BoiseDev asked in all of these interviews was about the State Street location’s distance from downtown. After reviewing the proposed location on a map and its nearly three mile distance from the current location on River Street, all of the people interviewed said the distance wasn’t a problem especially since there will be a day shelter and meals for guests at Interfaith Sanctuary’s expanded location.

Darlene Carver, 62, doesn’t stay at Interfaith Sanctuary because she lives in her truck, but she said the location was not far enough away that people couldn’t get what they needed.

“That’s a little ways out, but not that far,” she said, waiting for a shower at Corpus Christi House. “A lot of (the homeless community) do a whole lot of walking where they need to go.”

Concerns about impacts to neighbors

A rendering of the new shelter Interfaith Sanctuary is proposing for State Street. Via erstad Architects.

Not everyone interviewed was on board with the plan, though.

Interfaith Sanctuary guest Rose W, who declined to give her full name, said the proposed State Street location bothered her because of its proximity to a residential neighborhood. She is a former homeowner who described herself as “a living witness” to increased crime, littering and other objectionable behavior that comes with homeless shelters and other services for the community.

Instead of locating the shelter in the downtown core next to the freeway with polluted air or near a residential neighborhood, she suggested the shelter be placed on the outskirts of Boise away from anyone who could be impacted. Rose suggested they use shuttles to bring guests to medical appointments, the library or anywhere else they need to go instead of having the shelter itself located nearby.

“Homelessness has a darkness to it,” she said, walking down Cooper Court alley into Interfaith Sanctuary’s back gate. “There’s nothing light about it, and you can’t bring that into a residential community.”

The location near Veteran’s Park neighborhood also gave Jacob Carpenter, 44, pause. As he stood under the shade of the Connector holding a humorous cardboard sign hoping for spare change, Carpenter talked out the pros and cons of the project. He has only ever stayed a handful of nights at Interfaith Sanctuary when it is too bitterly cold to sleep outside like he prefers.

On one hand, he agreed with Rose W. about how behavior from some members of the homeless community could impact the neighborhood. But, he said the majority of the people who “cause the most issues” do not stay at Interfaith Sanctuary and aren’t likely to leave downtown. Carpenter said this was especially true because there will be specific day services and meals there only for residents.

He ultimately came to the conclusion that the shelter should be expanded, either at its current location somehow or to State Street. Carpenter thought either option would be suitable, but he acknowledged there wasn’t much room on River Street because of the highway.

“I think change is good,” he said. “Anything to get more resources into the hands of the homeless is good because they might be able to make changes to their lives.”

New shelter could provide better services

Anna Reinhart, 21, is a relatively new resident of Interfaith Sanctuary, but she said it’s become an important community to her the short time she’s stayed there. She said it’s become a really supportive place for her as she deals with being homeless for the first time, a variety of health problems and her mental wellness.

She said her biggest concern with Interfaith Sanctuary moving is that it could happen without any warning and she wouldn’t have time to plan for the change. Reinhart said due to her PTSD she needs extra time to process new situations and she would be anxious about losing her bed in the move.

But, she said the long timeline of the potential relocation made her feel a bit better about the possibility. The idea of more private spaces, like an “incentive bed” with storage space for personal belongings in a less crowded dormitory for people who are stable in programming, would be ideal for her.

“Without Interfaith, I think a lot of us would be dead or depressed and drinking every day,” she said, enjoying the sunshine at a picnic table at Corpus Christi House. “This is where street people become family.”

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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