Last Friday evening, in the middle of an early spring downpour, a few dozen residents of the temporary winter shelter Sanctuary enjoyed a potluck dinner next door at St. Paul's Baptist Church on Bannock Street. Halfway through the meal, Will Rainford, spokesman for the committee behind the innovative homeless shelter, stood up to offer what he knew would be some cold comfort to his audience. After a few men stood up and shushed their fellow diners, Rainford told the crowd: Don't stop and stare, just keep eating.
"The planning committee is very sad we're closing our doors," Rainford said. "I want to assure you that the planning committee is working very hard to find a solution that would be permanent. We know that being homeless is an emergency 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We have learned that from you, and we are working very hard to find a permanent building that we own that will never close its doors again."
Rainford's announcement met with mild applause and a "we love you guys" from the back of the room. But despite his promise that a permanent shelter will be up and running by November 1, neither Rainford nor anyone else involved with Sanctuary can say much about its successor. Pam Baldwin, executive director of the Idaho Interfaith Alliance and one of Sanctuary's founders, joked that it might have to be at Rainford's house. But judging by the capacity crowds that Sanctuary has drawn, both when it was located at the First Congregational Church of Christ last December and when it moved to an old storefront on Jefferson Street, the shelter would be welcome to Boise's homeless population no matter where it was located.
Nevertheless, on Saturday morning at 9 a.m., Sanctuary closed its doors. Rainford said the shelter's volunteers and administrators have been telling residents to utilize the Boise Rescue Mission Ministries services, including the Rescue Mission, City of Light Home for Women and River of Life Rescue Mission, in the interim. However, he admitted that most of the residents insisted they wouldn't. Some object to the Mission's rules about not admitting anyone who is visibly intoxicated. Others, its evangelical framework. Sanctuary resident Victor McGill, who said his bed on Saturday would be a camping spot along the Boise River, summed up his objection in two words: "Bad vibes."
Rainford said the goal of Sanctuary isn't to criticize the Rescue Mission. The goal is simply to provide an alternative. In the coming months, Sanctuary's organizers have plenty of work to bring that alternative to fruition. They've already filed the paperwork to become the nonprofit Sanctuary Interfaith Homeless Services, Inc. However, Baldwin also said they've used up nearly all the resources donated over the last few months by everyone from Albertsons to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints--and that's while relying almost entirely on volunteer labor. Rainford estimated the cost of operating a permanent shelter at around $30,000 to $50,000 a month, and said Sanctuary needs to have $250,000 raised by November to get off the ground.
"We're starting from scratch," he said.
But that doesn't mean Sanctuary's organizers are out of ideas. This Thursday, they will hold an open forum to allow community members to have a say about the gaps in Boise's homeless services and offer some solutions. By summer, the group hopes to open "cooling stations" around town, so that homeless people can have a place to cool down or sober up in the heat.
But heat?--c'mon, that's still several months away. Sanctuary is closed now, and the rain is still coming down. So, here's our unofficial guide to Boise's emergency shelters (not counting transitional housing, halfway houses, hospitals and, of course, jail). Use it to find a place to stay if the support structure that we all take for granted ceases to be all that supportive. Or just use it to be a more informed participant in the bourgeoning dialogue that plenty of people, such as Pastor Sue Watterson from the First Congregational Church of Christ, are trying to make sure you won't be able to ignore any longer.
"This is an issue that all cities need to deal with, and this is our day: How do we care for the least and the marginalized?" said Watterson at the final dinner. "Every city has to ask that at some point, even though every city would prefer to sweep it under the rug."
Sanctuary's open forum to discuss ways to help Boise's homeless population is this Thursday, April 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Ahavath Beth Israel Synagogue, 11 N. Latah.