Word on the Street Issue 21, May 2022

By Rev. Bruce Ervin

It was a beautiful quilt. It must have provided a great deal of physical and emotional comfort. My heart sank as I removed it from the abandoned tent on the Capitol Mall.

The tent demonstration at the State Capitol ended abruptly on Sunday, March 27. Perhaps because the 2022 legislative session had come to an end. Or maybe the demonstrators feared arrest, even though their demonstration was legal. It didn’t help that over the course of this ten-week assembly, neither the Governor nor the legislative leaders came out to talk to the demonstrators. It could be that for all these reasons, and more, the citizens who had pitched tents at the Capitol abandoned hope that their voices would be heard.

But their voices have been heard! People of faith and other Idaho citizens have heard clearly the call of the demonstrators for more affordable, supportive housing. People of faith and other Idaho citizens have heard the call for the Idaho Housing Trust Fund to actually be funded and housing built. People of faith and other Idaho citizens have heard the call for more low barrier shelter space. It is up to those who have heard the call to move our state, our city, our faith communities and our neighbors to take action.

Building affordable, supportive housing is not rocket science. There are developers who are willing to do so. All they need is land to build on without having to purchase it. The expenditure of funds to acquire land is a major factor in driving housing costs past the point where people with limited incomes can afford the rent or the purchase price. But churches have land. Citizens have land. Our state and cities have land. In other localities, affordable housing has been successfully built on such land. 

Furthermore, low barrier shelters are a proven method for providing safe space for our homeless neighbors while arrangements are made for them to find housing and employment. With low barrier shelters, supportive housing providers, and employers all working in tandem, our homeless neighbors are treated with dignity, public funds that might otherwise be spent on emergency room visits and incarceration are saved, and the interests of all of the city’s citizens are served.

The morning after the tent protestors declared their demonstration to be done, members of several Boise area faith communities, serving under the umbrella of the Boise Faith Group, arrived at the Capitol to recover as much of the demonstrators’ private property as possible. That’s how I came upon the beautiful quilt. It has been taken to a safe location. Perhaps it will soon be reunited with its owner. I hope so. 

In the meantime, I pray that the Holy One who cares for us all will provide an extra measure of protection for those – all of them God’s children – who are experiencing homelessness. Jesus, echoing Jewish wisdom, invited all who carry heavy burdens to come to him and find rest. The least that people of faith can do is to use their land and their voices in such a way that our homeless neighbors might finally lay their burdens down and find a safe and restful place to call home.