Saturday, October 1 2022

A working group set up to study Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal for a new shelter location has shifted gears in its recent meetings.

At the end of August, the leadership of Boise’s Shelter Better task force decided that the group of nearly 20 stakeholders would no longer review specific sites for a new emergency homeless shelter, nor vote on a preferred alternative. .

Instead, the task force will prepare a report with general recommendations on community engagement and emergency shelter best practices for Boise’s Planning & Zoning and Boise City Council to consider the proposal. Interfaith Sanctuary for an expanded shelter on State Street.

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In January, the nonprofit announced it would buy the old Salvation Army warehouse on State Street to renovate it into a larger shelter with beds for 200 people, a commercial kitchen, a shelter. day and other spaces for programming. The neighboring Veteran’s Park Neighborhood Association immediately opposed the project, citing concerns about property values ​​and the potential for crime by some residents of the shelter.

Interfaith Sanctuary sold its River Street building and purchased the Salvation Army shelter earlier this year before the town of Boise approved the new shelter.

What happened with the working group?

Other meetings between the interfaith shrine and frustrated neighbors continued into the spring, including a redesign of the project to reduce the number of beds, but tensions remained high. McLean announced a hiatus on the project in early June so the city can convene the Shelter Better task force to come back with a “proposed solution and deal around better shelter,” noting that the solution could end up being the State Street warehouse. .

But, at the seventh meeting of the eight-week task force on August 26, task force chair Courtney Washburn, McLean’s chief of staff, told members the task force was not “authorized.” making decisions for the interfaith sanctuary or the town of Boise. .

She said there was growing “unease” with several members of the task force that they did not have enough information to vote on a preferred shelter location in just eight weeks, and that the group of work could no longer deliberate.

“Again, I can’t move the timeline forward and I’ve heard you say you’re uncomfortable with the information you have to make some of these decisions,” Washburn told the task force. after a few members expressed confusion at the new direction. “Real estate is complex. I’m not a zoning nerd or understand most of it, and I know who is doing it and these are the people who are in the decision-making space in this area.

Frustration of members on both sides

At the meeting, Rabbi Dan Fink, a member of the board of trustees of the interfaith shrine, was not satisfied with the idea of ​​the task force moving away from a specific direction.

“I think we are making a mistake in moving away from the unease,” said Fink. “There is a desire and I understand it politically because nobody wants unease, but leadership means going into unease and giving us direction.”

Katy Decker, a member of the task force and vice president of the Veterans Park Neighborhood Association, is also frustrated with the task force process. She said the city should have anticipated that the task force could not force Interfaith Sanctuary to change its project proposal and that members were not equipped to assess sites for development early on.

She and other neighborhood activists opposed to the Interfaith plan have also repeatedly called for an entirely different shelter model, such as smaller sites all over town. This type of alternative was not allowed to be studied or discussed in the working group meetings, as it only focused on the Interfaith Sanctuary proposal.

“I understand that they are trying to record the efforts made over the past 8 weeks, but the working group is not equipped to do such a general report because from the start all discussions have been cut short around the project. interfaith. The site of the sanctuary and their operational constraints, ”she said. “So now we’re making general recommendations for shelters in Boise and we know people have been interested in the scattered site models, but we haven’t had any reading or discussion about it.”

City spokeswoman Lana Graybeal said the recommendations will help guide the final decision.

“This team was invaluable for the workshop and ultimately for presenting their recommendations on how we serve our most vulnerable residents,” Graybeal wrote in an email. “The final report they produce will be used to guide community decisions regarding our response to emergency shelters as it fits into Our Path Home’s strategic plan to end homelessness in the county. from Ada.

Few options for alternative properties

One of the biggest tasks of the working group was to do a “scan of the terrain” to study the available plots where the shelter could be located and vote on an option. At the August 26 meeting, broker Sam McCaskill, who also helped Interfaith Sanctuary find the State Street property, presented his findings, but the task force had little to assess.

Of the properties within the city limits of Boise, three acres or less, and in one of the four areas of Boise that allow emergency shelter, only a handful of properties remained. Of these, almost all had been under contract since the task force began to search, with the exception of one site owned by the Ada County Highway District on Front Street next to Terry Reilly Health Services and a site at 1250 Vinnell Way, which is tucked behind Overland Road Walmart near the interstate.

There was no in-depth discussion of the merits of either plot.

McCaskill said the Vinnell site is listed with a national brokerage and the price is not publicly available, which he says indicates it is a high price compared to the budget of ‘Interfaith Sanctuary. He was also unable to contact the agent selling the property to even ask if he would be interested in selling.

He said there is such demand for sites that meet Interfaith Sanctuary’s criteria that they are often bought within days of the sale or never make it onto the open market. For example, he noted that the Symposium bar site sold for $ 5 million an acre.

“The financial situation is difficult,” he told the task force. “The hardest part is finding a ready-to-sell property or owner that fits the parameters. The research has been very creative, both industrial buildings, office buildings, all the way down to the land and I think there is no doubt that the property value for State Street has gone up. There is a lot of demand for buildings like this.

Is State Street the only option?

Interfaith Sanctuary executive director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said the few options the land scan revealed confirmed all the due diligence her nonprofit did before purchasing the building for the project. . She hoped the task force would help everyone in the community come together and realize that the State Street site with its history of Salvation Army family services on the site made it the best option, but she decided. said the process was hampering this collaboration.

“Interfaith did a lot of work to believe that (this project) is the right thing, but we wanted other people to be a part of the process so that we could see and learn together that it made sense, but I don’t think so. that we got there, ”she said. “I don’t think the task force got us there.

Decker is not sure there are no other options. She said the city should not have limited the criteria to the few areas in the city that already allow shelter if it has a conditional use permit. If they were to look at properties in neighborhoods where shelter was not already permitted, it could open up more possible sites.

“If we can rezone for housing, then why can’t we talk about rezoning for properties that we can use for shelter? Decker said. “I don’t know why it’s blocking up there.”


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