Ada Co. Commissioners cut New Path funding, look for changes

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The Ada County Commissioners want a new way forward for Boise’s Housing First project for chronically homeless residents. 

During Monday’s budget deliberations, the three-member board agreed to cut the funding for New Path Community Housing from $312,000 down to $200,000 next year. The commissioners also want a bigger focus on substance abuse counseling and behavioral health treatment under the new program, and the future of Terry Reilly Health Services’ contract with the county is in question. 

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New Path Community Housing is an apartment building on Fairview Avenue that houses 49 chronically homeless Boiseans. The project, which opened in November 2018, is a collaboration between the City of Boise, a private developer, Ada County, Saint Alphonsus Health System, St. Luke’s Health System and other public and private partners to provide stable housing to the homeless community regardless of sobriety or mental health diagnosis. 

As part of the partnership, Ada County and the hospital systems split the costs of the supportive services for residents at the building. As part of the Housing First model of addressing homelessness, some of Ada County’s most vulnerable members of the homeless community live in the building with access to support staff to provide case management, programming, counseling and assistance with day to day tasks. 

Out with Housing First

All three Ada County Commissioners expressed skepticism about the program earlier this month in a meeting with Terry Reilly staff and a Boise State University researcher who studied the project’s financial impacts. This continued during Monday’s budget talks, when Republican Commissioner Rod Beck said he wanted the program to transition to a different model of care. 

“We could allocate some money, but I wouldn’t want to automatically turn it into the Housing First model,” Beck said. “We know it doesn’t work. It’s a failed model all across the country. I wouldn’t mind if we put it not to that program, but into a Treatment First program. I am not going to support the county’s contribution to Housing First. It seems that (the residents are) not getting anywhere.”

Housing First is a national practice established by the George HW Bush administration in the 1990s. Advocates say housing chronic homeless community members saves taxpayers money by reducing their arrests, nights in jail, hospital stays, and utilization of other services. Some studies found these programs, when they have the proper support programs, result in higher rates of housing stability, utilization of substance abuse programs and engagement with mental health services

A study conducted by Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute found New Path saved the Ada County community $1.3 million in its first year of operation. This comes from the residents reducing jail time, hospital visits, contacts from law enforcement, and staying in emergency shelters.

But, critics and other researchers say Housing First is not enough to make an impact on the country’s growing numbers of Americans experiencing homelessness and it doesn’t do enough to treat addiction and behavioral health disorders of the residents who live there. The Trump administration started moving the federal government away from the policy at the end of his term. 

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a report touting Treatment First over Housing First last summer. The group said this approach would require participants to maintain sobriety and participate in rigorous substance abuse counseling before they moved into long-term housing. 

Boise spokesperson Lana Graybeal wrote in a statement Monday afternoon the City of Boise is still backing Housing First in response to the comments from the Ada County Commissioners.

“As a partner in Our Path Home, we are committed to working with other partners to identify ways to sustain the funding needed for New Path Community Housing,” the statement said. “The Housing First model, which includes New Path Community Housing and Valore Point in our community, are evidence-based and cost-saving resources in our city, and provide the stability residents who previously experienced chronic homelessness deserve.”

Future of program uncertain

Democrat Commissioner Kendra Kenyon agreed with Beck, saying she wanted to see more requirements for residents to live at New Path. She advocated for the county dropping its funding down to $200,000, which matches the $100,000 each of the hospital systems are paying in. 

“I would like it to be mandatory that people we’re paying for do get treatment for their behavioral health and mental health issues and substance abuse and that’s monitored very closely,” she said. “I think if we pull (all of the funding out) we don’t have a say. I would rather us contribute something and continue in partnership to see if we can’t improve what they’re trying to do.”

This budget approval means the project will be funded, but it leaves the question of exactly what the supportive services at New Path will look like in the future and who will provide them to be decided later. 

Republican Commissioner Ryan Davidson joined the other two commissioners in raising questions about the program, but he didn’t commit one way or the other to a treatment model he preferred.

“I still have a lot of questions about Housing First and alternate solutions,” Davidson said. “I understand some of these people are the worst of the worst and if it weren’t for Housing First they would go right back to the street, but I’d like the flexibility to examine other options.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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