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Blaine County Housing Authority discusses approach to homelessness

A group of people are sitting in chairs in a circle to discuss homelessness.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
In January of 2023, community members gathered in a Hailey church to discuss plans for opening a temporary homeless shelter.

The Blaine County School District noticed it first. Several new students were arriving each week at the start of last school year. Their families were coming primarily from South America, seeking work and refuge from instability in their home countries. In an already housing-strapped community, many didn’t have dependable living arrangements.

This situation spurred an emergency response effort last winter to set up two temporary shelters for families to escape the cold.

“Just kind of getting families out of really terrible dire housing situations and trying to create some stability for them,” said Courtney Noble, a housing and homelessness consultant who lives in Hailey and volunteered at the shelter.

Noble previously worked on youth homelessness programs in Seattle and was hired by the Blaine County Housing Authority this year to draft a plan for future emergency housing needs.

She started by looking at data from the schools, the ‘Point-in-Time’ count and the local shelter for women and children who are survivors of domestic violence, and found about 200 people in Blaine County were experiencing homelessness each night.

It wasn’t just people who were new to the community, she said. For instance, 60% of the unstably housed students in the school district spoke English as their first language.

“There's always been, sort of, hidden rural homelessness,” she said. “People can't afford to stay in their homes, and are in their cars and are getting evicted.”

The issue became more visible last fall and winter, as did the fact that no organization is explicitly in charge of responding to homelessness in the community.

“That shelter last year was amazing because it came together really quickly. It was all volunteer run,” Noble said.

However, contributing to running the shelter for months took a lot of work for local non-profit staff to pull off on top of their jobs.

So, the goal was to draft a more proactive response this year, Noble said.

The Housing Authority’s strategy for this year involves negotiating leases for RV spots and motel rooms, while helping people find longer-term housing. At the same time, local churches plan on coordinating to provide short-term warming shelters.

It also calls for longer-term solutions, like more transitional housing options and other strategies Ketchum is working to enact through the Housing Action Plan it adopted last year.

The Ketchum City Council received an update on the Housing Authority's emergency housing strategy during its Monday evening meeting

“I’m truly thankful that we have a plan,” said Mayor Neil Bradshaw. He said no city expenditures would be incurred without the council’s approval.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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