Boise’s population is rising fast and so are housing prices – an economic boom that comes with a cost: homeless people have to struggle to get back into housing because rents are so high.
That was the message of a panel discussion on homelessness hosted by the Idaho Chapter meeting of the Building Owners and Managers Association on Nov. 21. The 90-minute discussion looked at three aspects of the homeless problem: employment, housing and services. The panels were moderated by Geoffrey Wardle of the real estate law firm of Clark Wardle.
Jodi Peterson Stigers, manager of the Interfaith Sanctuary shelter in Boise, noted the “most critical need” is to “house people until they can get housing.”
“These people have been priced out of rentals. There is no affordable option,” she said.
Stigers also outlined how hard it is to get a job or to accessing services without an address or photo ID. She referenced the unique problems of trying to obtain an ID, which she addressed in a recent Boise TED talk.
Beatrice Black of the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, which provides services and shelter for domestic violence victims, stressed that many shelter residents are working full time but have no access to affordable housing “so they’re stuck.”
“Every morning they wake up and they go to work, but they’re branded as homeless,” she said. “This hurts their ability to move up and get a better paying job. It’s really hard to do when you have no address. It also hurts your ability to get housing when you have none. It’s a struggle and our timelines (to find affordable housing) are so much longer now. People are staying in our shelter for a year and a half because there’s no access to actually having (housing) inventory.”
Stigers underscored how homelessness is really a package of interrelated problems, which can’t be solved by simplistic solutions: “Our perception of what people need and want and what they (actually) need is different,” Stiger said.
“There’s not one person in my shelter that’s not experiencing some level of trauma, however they got into homelessness. We have to create safe space first and give them some time to get their head back together and then we can really start addressing the major issues. … Studies show that (you must address) trauma first. Then (addressing) mental health and addiction follows.”
Black also presented this chilling statistic: “Domestic violence abuse is the leading cause of homelessness in our community and in the country as a whole.”
Economic abuse is part of the picture that’s often neglected, she said, adding that it is challenging to rehouse and employ these victims if they inherited a bad credit history from a spouse or lack transportation.
Black brought home how economic conditions over the last decade are creating a new class of homeless: “(Going by) last year’s numbers, 85 percent of the clients who lived in our shelter had annual incomes of less than $12,000 a year. So you try to find something on that kind of income, and it’s virtually impossible.”
But there are efforts underway to provide new opportunities to people who are facing homelessness.
To help address a shortage in available labor, the City of Boise Parks Department began a program in 2017 to employ some of the residents of the Interfaith Sanctuary Shelter.
Jennifer Tomlinson, parks superintendent for the City of Boise, outlined factors that have made the program successful despite some of the problems that often prevent this population from working, like viable transportation.
“We worked extensively on the scheduling,” said Tomlinson. “The Sanctuary provides transportation and lunch for them. And I think the most important part of our program is there’s a case manager who’s assigned to each of the teams that works for us … If things are starting to go sideways, then there’s always somebody who’s able to step in and help them.”
As a business owner, Bret Vaterlaus, owner and manager of Western Building Maintenance of Boise, decided a few years ago to extend employment to one portion of the homeless population often left jobless. Despite a genuine desire to work, many people who have served time behind bars can’t get jobs. Vaterlaus outlined the success he’s had in employing former convicts; however, he emphasized that many building maintenance contracts prevent this.
“So if you want to make a difference, review your contracts,” he said. “If you would you like to be a community-minded tenant … then take a little bit of risk and help them improve, but it all has to start with all of us working together. But currently, (service) contracts usually block employing these people — so that’s where we’re stuck at.”