Who Has The Solution To Boise’s Homeless Problem, Eugene Or Salt Lake?

Nov 19, 2015

There are two ideas being talked about in Boise to house chronically homeless people. You can think of them as the Eugene model and the Salt Lake City model.

Thursday night homeless advocates are bringing a speaker to Boise from Eugene, Oregon. Andrew Heben will speak at north Boise’s Cathedral of the Rockies Methodist Church about the experimental housing community he runs in Eugene. A lot of people in Boise are excited about this model, including many people who are currently homeless.

If you talk with residents of the Boise tent camp called Cooper Court, they’ll likely bring up the Eugene communities. Many of them would like to see something similar done in Boise. Basically it’s a self-contained neighborhood of tiny houses, not much different from backyard sheds. They’re unheated and a shared building has all the plumbing.

University of Idaho architecture students designed tiny, cheap houses for BASC as part of a class project.
Credit Courtesy Boise Alternative Shelter Co-op

A group called the Boise Alternative Shelter Co-op (BASC) wants to build one of these communities. Jerry Brady with BASC says it’s a positive alternative to a tent city.

“What’s interesting about Eugene to me is that they’ve built a code of conduct and they govern themselves,” Brady says. “It’s not like Big Brother. It’s that the people living in that community create their own charter of behavior and live by it.”

Brady, who you may remember as the Democratic candidate for Governor in 2002 and 2006, says for $500 dollars a unit, BASC can build a community to get people off the street and under their own roofs.

In Eugene the city is a partner, but in Boise nonprofits would be on their own. A City of Boise spokesman says a Eugene-style community would have the same problems as Boise’s tent camp, including drugs and crime. Boise wants to focus on a technique developed in Salt Lake called housing first. In housing first a homeless person gets an apartment without any prerequisites and a bunch of services like social workers who try and help the person keep it. Diana Lachiondo, the city’s community partnerships director, says the Salt Lake model has the most evidence showing it keeps people housed long term.

“Folks who are really struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, they need more than just a roof over their head,” Lachiondo says. “They need supportive services to stay housed. That’s why we’re focused on that holistic solution.”

Jerry Brady agrees that the Salt Lake model is the best long-term solution and he’s glad the city wants to do it. But it’s more expensive and in the near term could only help a few people. Brady thinks something in between tents and apartments is needed. He says we shouldn’t make the “perfect,” the enemy of the “good.”

“The perfect is affordable housing for everyone on the Salt Lake model,” Brady says. “But in the meantime people are going to be out in the cold. They’re going to be in trouble. Let’s do something where people can come together and form a community of small dwellings.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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