A line item in Boise’s new budget for possible improvements to a Boise Police Department facility across the street from a proposed location for a new homeless shelter is concerning neighborhood activists.
In Boise’s newly approved FY 2022 budget, the city set aside $100,000 for improvements to the former headquarters for the department’s bike patrol unit. The small commercial building sits directly across State Street from the former Salvation Army warehouse Interfaith Sanctuary purchased earlier this year. Interfaith hopes to expand and turn the Salvation Army building into its shelter and a new community housing model for those experiencing homelessness.
Interfaith Sanctuary said the new building will allow them to house more families as Boise’s housing crisis worsens and the larger site with a day shelter will allow for more security and keep guests from bothering neighbors.
But, the project met with opposition from members of the nearby Veteran’s Park Neighborhood Association. They criticized Interfaith’s move to purchase the building before it was approved, the potential for more crime, and other impacts from some members of the homeless community who would live there.
Mayor Lauren McLean put Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal on pause last month to convene an eight-week task force to study what is the best possible solution for a new shelter and where it should be located.
BPD: Willow Lane another location for writing reports
The inclusion of the line item to revamp Boise Police Department’s facility right across the street from the project raised questions for neighbors who say this confirms their fears that the shelter will bring more crime to their neighborhood.
BPD spokesperson Haley Williams said the $100,000 is for high-speed internet connectivity and other upgrades to the building so it can be staffed on a more full-time basis if the department sees a need in the area, but there are no plans to spend the funds this year or at any other set time.
“We have kept this resource in place because we don’t have many other options for report writing on that side of town,” Williams said. “BPD has said all along that we can adapt and change our staffing models based on changing calls for services all over the city. If there is an increased need in part of the city we will adjust our resources to meet that need whether there is a substation nearby or not.”
The department used the Willow Lane building starting in 2018 as headquarters for bike officers after a facility on Capitol Blvd. needed renovations. The bike unit left the building in December when a new downtown substation opened on Fairview Avenue. During those two years, as many as eight bike officers and a sergeant worked out of the building.
It is still operating, but only as a temporary drop-in space for bike officers if they need a place with internet access to file a report on that side of downtown, Williams said.
Emails show possible link between projects
A group of activists opposed to the Interfaith project recently shared emails they obtained under public records request on their No Shelter on State Facebook page. The emails show city staff members discussing the funding for the Willow Lane site. When McLean announced the task force delaying the shelter application, Boise’s Senior Budget Analyst Travis Black asked Police Support Services Manager Jodi McCrosky if the Willow Lane upgrades were still necessary.
McCrosky replied with her “early thoughts” that Willow Lane could still be used if the final shelter location ends up in the northwest corner of the city outside of the downtown core, but the task force could push out the planning timeline. Black wrote back that the city plans to keep the description of the project and $100,000 figure the same, but the city could revisit more funding as they learn more.
Veterans Park Neighborhood Association member Clay Elkin says the city’s move to put more resources into the station shows the city knows Interfaith Sanctuary will disrupt the neighborhood. He said it also should put up “red flags” for taxpayers after the city invested millions to rehab the former Lucky Dog Tavern on Fairview Avenue into a new downtown substation and now the city is turning around and putting money into improvements to Willow Lane.
The Willow Lane facility and former Lucky Dog site are 2.7 road miles apart.
“We tend to put a lot of trust in our public servants that they are using their resources to their highest and best uses,” Elkin said. “We put a multi-million investment in the new downtown substation so that it would best support our neighborhoods experiencing homelessness who live down there and best support the surrounding community and now we’re hearing is ‘well all we really had to do was throw $100,000 to Willow Lane and we could do a similar job’.”
As BoiseDev previously reported, the area near Interfaith Sanctuary’s current location on River Street has some of the highest call volumes in the city, but the majority of the crimes are for welfare checks, a person causing a disturbance or trespassing instead of violent offenses.
Interfaith Sanctuary’s current location is located near several social service providers, including the Corpus Christi House day shelter that serves anyone, regardless of if they are staying in a shelter at the time. There are also a number of people living in their cars or RVs in the area.
The proposed shelter would include a day shelter that would only be open to guests and will not have meal service for the community.