Case manager discusses City Council debate comments on Interfaith Sanctuary

By Frank DeAngeli, a case manager at Interfaith Sanctuary who attended the Boise Young Professionals debate on October 14 featuring candidates for City Council.

As a case manager and team member at Interfaith Sanctuary, I was disappointed by the conversation that nine Boise city council candidates had Thursday night surrounding the relocation of our homeless shelter to the former Salvation Army building on State Street.

I’ll begin by pointing out a couple blatant mistruths from the candidates. Katie Fite, running in District 5, suggested that the eight week Shelter Better task force was insufficient for determining the best location for a shelter. She believes that there is ample time to reconvene and spend more time coming up with a better solution. Here is the reality: I field about 4-5 calls every week from families and individuals who are becoming homeless for the first time in their lives and need emergency overnight shelter. As we approach winter, our shelter has been at 100% capacity every single night – not just beds, but every space on the floor that fire code allows us. People are being turned away, referred to other shelters because the space we currently have does not meet the community’s need. There is, without question, no more time for political feet-dragging on this issue.

Ms. Fite also suggested that there shouldn’t have been a non-disclosure agreement surrounding the task force meetings. No such agreement existed. I would invite Ms. Fite to watch all eight meetings in their entirety on the “City of Boise Public Meetings” Youtube page.

District 3 Candidate Maria Santa Cruz-Cernik voiced her opposition to the State Street project, citing Interfaith’s inability to solve problems like drug use and mental health at its current location. This reasoning not only smacks of ignorance of how addiction and mental illness work, but it also disregards the efforts we put forth every day to help people on the path to recovery and wellbeing. Outside of providing emergency overnight shelter, Interfaith offers programming to all who are ready to become sober or make a serious effort to improve their mental health. I have met with individuals in the throes of meth addiction or alcohol withdrawal who have utilized our resources and are now clean, healthy, happy and working full-time. Our program coordinators go above and beyond to help folks secure the help they need.

More to the point: to ascribe persistent addiction and mental health problems among the homeless to some lack of action on Interfaith Sanctuary’s part demonstrates an insufficient understanding of these issues.

A common talking point for the candidates was the idea of creating multiple shelters in different locations across the city instead of a “megashelter” (a long-time favorite buzz word used by opponents of the project). This is arguably the least viable solution to expanding our shelter services due to its financial infeasibility. It was a stretch to our budget to purchase a single building – where would the money come from for one or two additional ones? Suggesting the multi-shelter approach as the best option to offer shelter and services shows that some candidates have not done their research on our project, including some of those running in District 3 where the new shelter has been proposed.

A part of this multi-shelter discussion worth addressing was the idea that it is irresponsible to house families with mentally ill folks and drug addicts. Built into our proposal for the new shelter is a family section completely separate from the individual section, including a separate kitchen and bathrooms. There would be limited exposure and interaction between children and individuals outside of their family units. Even if this were not the case, what’s more irresponsible would be to turn away hundreds of individuals or dozens of families every night for the sake of not crossing paths. Interfaith has safely and successfully housed families in the same facility as individuals for years, and nothing suggests that this would change at a new location.

The candidates only had a minute each to give their insight on the State Street project, but a lack of knowledge and research was made apparent in that time. I hope that in future discussions, candidates can demonstrate that they have familiarized themselves further with Interfaith and the relocation process thus far. Much like State Street neighbors of the project, each candidate made sure to express their overwhelming compassion for the cause and empathy for homeless individuals.

I ask this of candidates and neighbors: what is your compassion worth if it ends where a practical application begins?