Jerry Brady: A village for the homeless in Boise? Eugene did it (Idaho Statesman)

As winter approaches, Boise’s homeless population is again huddling up in one place. Last year it was under The Connector at 16th Street. This year it’s at a nearby alley, Cooper Court. Homeless people crowd around the city’s largest-capacity overnight shelter, Interfaith Sanctuary. More tents pop up each week.

People ask, “What is the city doing about this?” In fact, a mayor’s task force is studying ways to provide “permanent supportive housing” for the chronically homeless—including privately funded “social impact bonds.”

But it’s not just “the city’s problem.” Governments will never close the enormous gap in affordable housing. An August study estimates 6,000 low-income people in Boise alone lack access to it. A whole lot of private, affordable housing – such as the new Trailwinds Apartments in Garden City and another proposed for Star – will need to be in the valley’s future.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Cathedral of the Rockies, a young man from Oregon, Andrew Heben, will discuss an intermediate step, a partial solution, for those without shelter. In Eugene, 30 formerly homeless people and several supportive churches have created “Opportunity Village.” It consists of very small, attractive, individual dwellings plus common facilities for cooking, showering, meeting, learning and sanitation. It is fenced and security-tight. Residents govern themselves under a charter more strict than outsiders would dare write.

Over the last two years, more than 30 residents have saved money and moved on to more permanent housing.

After an initial construction cost of $100,000, the ongoing expense is $90 a day: one dollar from each resident and two from the churches. The village leases city land for one dollar a year. A second village will break ground soon. (See www.squareonevillages.org)

It would take time to find land in Boise, line up supportive services, determine who might join and under what rules. Understandably, the city says it is not ready for this. But Heben will shine a light on what is possible.

Over 100 people are jammed next to The Connector right now. Might 30 of them govern themselves effectively, as in Eugene? Might someone have warehouse space for the winter?

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a new organization encouraging compassion in all aspects of life.