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Finding Shelter

City vague homelessness plan unveiled; Sanctuary opens

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After a year of planning, the City of Boise is ready to unveil its 10-year plan for reducing chronic homelessness—well, at least some general ideas about it.

The document lays out a general idea, but offers no details on exactly how it will get people off the street. That won't come until the next phase. The initiative was started at the first of Mayor Dave Bieter's Livability Summit Series, and brought together an assortment of local leaders. The results are a set of eight guiding principles that will focus city efforts addressing homelessness permanently.

No dollar figures or specifics are offered by the plan; instead, it frames a basic reference and list of overarching goals. Among them: expanding access to housing; providing permanent housing options; increasing support services; raising awareness within the community and maintaining strong partnerships with existing agencies.

The plan is based on an idea called housing first, in which housing is paired with support services.

"The idea is that the chronically homeless consume 50 percent of the resources but are only 10 percent of the [homeless] population," said Beth Geagan, project manager for the plan. "If you house them, you free up the resources."

According to estimates cited in the report, between 2,000 and 3,000 people in Ada County are homeless at some point throughout the year. Of those, 300 to 350 are considered chronically homeless. The annual cost for services per person ranges from $40,000 to $85,000, figures which include case management costs, incarceration, paramedics, emergency room costs and shelter services, among others. The cost of providing more permanent housing and services is roughly $25,000 to $35,000 per person annually.

Initially, the plan will focus on the chronically homeless, then move to address those who need assistance more infrequently.

The basic framework for the plan was provided by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which works with communities across the country on similar plans. The agency has formally approved Boise's plan, a fact which Geagan said helps city planners know they are in line with what others are doing. The release of the document is the end of the first phase of the 10-year plan. The second phase will be a two-month period to gather public input and develop a plan to implement the new ideas.

"It will really define the projects and the funding and all the mechanisms we need to put in place," Geagan said.

On-the-ground work is scheduled to begin in January 2008.

While the city's plan is in the works, Interfaith Sanctuary is preparing to open the doors of its new, permanent location on Thursday. The shelter, 620 W. River St., will have space for up to 100 individuals, including couples and families, nightly.

After two years spent bouncing between locations, this will be the shelter's first permanent home. The 10,200-square-foot warehouse, the former location of U.S. Glass and Mirror, was purchased earlier this fall for $800,000. Only half of the building will open Thursday, meaning separate sleeping areas for couples and families will not be opened until the spring. Plans also call for hospitality rooms, family support services and overflow sleeping areas.

The shelter will be open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.

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