Boise's Employment Program For Homeless Shows Success

Sep 11, 2017

Officials in Idaho's capitol city say they're happy with a program offering homeless residents employment with the Boise Parks and Recreation Department.

The program is a partnership between the city and Interfaith Sanctuary, a homeless shelter, modeled after a similar initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Idaho Statesman reported recently.

Shelter leaders and case managers identified residents that would make good candidates for the program and got them ready for the job. Participants were required to work closely with case managers, who helped them obtain Social Security cards, identification cards and checking accounts so they could deposit their earnings.

The 10 employees from Sanctuary have proven to be capable workers, said Andrea Wurtz, a Park and Recreation crew chief.

"They're fantastic workers," she said. "They show up on time. They're ready to go. They're very positive. They're happy people."

The program drew inspiration from a program in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the city hires panhandlers for a day. Boise officials wanted their program to provide steady income and expectations. Officials decided at a Jan. 20 meeting that the participants would work as city employees rather than independent contractors.

Case workers from the shelter tag along with the participants during the work day to address any problems that come up and ensure they are drinking enough water.

"For once, they're saying, 'Oh, there's a system that actually values me and wants me to show up,'" said Andrew Scoggin, president of the Interfaith board.

The jobs have not only put money in the shelter residents' pockets, but have also helped improve the workers' mental or emotional state, according to Jodi Peterson, the shelter's development director. For three residents, the program has led to other jobs and a path toward permanent housing for three others.

Benson Howard, 38, may soon be able to afford his own apartment in downtown Boise, he said.

"I actually like it just about better than any other job I've had," said Howard of Louisiana, who moved to Boise in 2008.

After seeing some success, officials decided to expand the program to two crews of Interfaith Sanctuary residents working as eight-month seasonal employees. With the city's seasonal park work ending Oct. 31, officials are hoping they can find other work for the crew to do from November to March.