Interfaith Sanctuary’s plan to build a new shelter in the former Salvation Army building at 4308 W State Street will now move forward after a conditional use permitting process that took almost a year-and-a-half.
The permit was originally denied by Boise’s Planning & Zoning Commission over security concerns raised by neighbors, unverified data that stereotyped people experiencing homelessness, and a lack of a security plan that the conditional use permitting process does not require.
Boise City Council overturned the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to deny Interfaith Sanctuary a conditional use permit on Monday, April 25 in a 4-2 vote, with only council members Patrick Bageant and Luci Willits voting against the permit’s approval.
The city council held more than 25 hours of public hearings after Interfaith Sanctuary appealed the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision in February. Residents of the neighborhood, Interfaith Sanctuary staff and board members, and experts involved in the project testified as to whether they believed the shelter project should be granted a permit and allowed to move forward.
In his rebuttal, Interfaith Sanctuary’s attorney Geoffrey Wardle said he realized the significance of the backlash against the project after the owner of a nearby business asked if it would be possible to label people experiencing homelessness so that neighborhood residents know who they are.
Several members of the city council, as well as some residents who testified in favor of the shelter, reminded everyone that some of the things said about people experiencing homelessness during testimony were similar to those made to keep people of color out of neighborhoods prior to the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.
Many people also testified in favor, including shelter residents, who shared stories of their journeys. Jeff Chapman, a former guest and Project Recovery participant, is now a case manager for the shelter’s Parks & Recreation Program and is living in his own housing. “I found a safe place with this program and a community and got on my path to recovery,” he told the council.
Carla Velez, Interfaith Sanctuary’s family program supervisor, said that people experiencing homelessness already face discrimination in the community and that it’s important to fight for their rights. “I’m here today because I believe that homelessness is a violation of the right to life, because homelessness is an assault on the dignity and social inclusion of those who for diverse reasons are being denied the right to housing, healthcare, water, sanitation, safety, and freedom from cruel and degrading treatment,” she said.
“What I see every day is probably what I would see if I had access to any of your homes. I see parents waking up early and getting their kids ready for school; I see individuals going to work or trying to find (a job); I see parents doing the best they can with what they have to ensure their families are safe and happy…”
Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said she’s relieved the shelter can now move forward with its plan to serve guests in the best way possible.“(This process) has put a lot of strain on our guests, our staff, and our board, and so it’s really good to see that if you can hang in there, this is the right thing,” she said.
“This is what our community needs and this is what our community who is no longer in housing deserves. I’m so proud that we got here.”
Now, the project will move into the design review process with Planning & Zoning staff. If the design is approved, construction will begin in 1-5 months.