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Ketchum and volunteers set up temporary shelter in Hailey

An aerial view of the city of Hailey
Hailey, Idaho
/
Flickr Creative Commons

The city of Ketchum, as well as leaders of Blaine County faith organizations and nonprofits, are working to set up a temporary shelter by Friday before up to 50 people are set to be displaced from hotel rooms that were previously booked.

The notice of the deadline came in a letter last week from social service nonprofits and the Blaine County School District, asking elected officials to declare a disaster over a surge in people experiencing homelessness, which they called a “humanitarian crisis.”

The organizations have been working to move people from unsafe housing situations, sometimes without heat and running water, to hotel rooms, where the families would pay a portion of the cost. But, they knew those rooms would be occupied intermittently over the course of the winter ski season.

“There is a need for an overnight shelter, and that’s what we’re standing up right now, is really just somewhere to sleep,” said Carissa Connelly, Ketchum’s housing strategist.

Blaine County does not have a homeless shelter for the general population.

The new temporary shelter will primarily be open at nighttime and will be staffed by volunteers who go through training and a background check, Connelly told the Ketchum City Council this week.

The owner of the space is making it available for no charge, but Ketchum will sign an official lease for insurance purposes. That’s something Blaine County and the city of Hailey were not willing to do, though the shelter is located in Hailey.

“There seemed to be a reluctance from both the county and Hailey to move forward on this, so we offered to put it under us because we needed to solve that particular obstacle,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said during the council meeting.

In an email, Hailey’s city administrator Lisa Horowitz said the city has provided “in kind services” for facilities located in Hailey, including inspections and snow-clearing, but that Hailey’s interim housing policy does not address homelessness.

“We have made a commitment to our constituents to address workforce housing for those who reside and work in Hailey as our primary housing goal,” she said.

“Before Hailey would commit any taxpayer funds to the issue of homelessness, we would want to bring the conversation forward to our community at large so that we understand fully how this topic is aligned with all of our housing values.”

Meanwhile, church leaders and advocates worked to set up the temporary shelter so it was ready by Friday.

“We’ve got bathrooms cleaned and the kitchen, refrigerators and some furniture moved in, some tables and chairs,” said Heather Wesley, the president of the women's organization at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hailey.

Herbert Romero, a community organizer, said while Blaine County might not declare a state of emergency over the issue, “on a grassroots level, we could declare a state of urgency.”

In a meeting he helped organize at the LDS church in Hailey last week, people organized to cook hot meals, amass clothing and drive people to Twin Falls for appointments with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Brooke Pace McKenna with the Hunger Coalition said the new shelter will likely help people avoid unsafe housing without heat, but it is temporary.

“In a perfect world, we would have a humane, comfortable shelter location where these families don’t have to move in and out of constantly,” she said.

Connelly believes Ketchum’s plan to address housing more generally could help avoid such situations in the long-term.

“We do recognize right now that we have such a lack of affordable housing that there’s nowhere for people to go, even though they’re working, they’re productive, they're participating in the community and the economy, there’s just not the housing available,” she said.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.