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Recovering the Homeless: Organizations Pulling Boise's Homeless Off the Streets

Numerous organization work to smooth the path out of homelessness

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Arianna Farmer appeared suddenly in the doorway of Lisa Veaudry's office at the Step Up learning center. She stood in her midnight-black ensemble of a hooded sweatshirt, sweatpants stretched tight over her thighs and well-worn skate sneakers with pink laces. Her expression, hiding a smile, was of guarded pride. She had good news for Veaudry. She had landed a job.

Farmer, 20, is homeless and has been since she was 16 years old, when she took the General Education Development test and left her father, who ran a Christian newspaper out of a basement. Her boyfriend is also homeless, and she avoids pregnancy with birth control, which is a challenge because it means adhering to a schedule: "You have to take it every day," she said. It's hard to plan for the future when you live in the now, on the street.

"There ain't nothing to dream about when you're homeless," Farmer said.

But that had just changed: Farmer had come to Veaudry's office to talk about her first day of work in two years. It was a temporary office job through LaborMax Staffing, but it advanced goals she might not have had the confidence to make without Veaudry's help--like one day returning to school and seeking a job in social work or criminal justice.

She spent two hours with Veaudry producing a resume on Sept. 16. The next day, LaborMax placed her with a job.

For those seeking to escape days spent on the streets and nights in shelters, the obstacles to finding homes, jobs and support networks are so numerous and complicated that they might seem insurmountable.

They're not. Leaving a lifestyle of struggling to meet daily needs in favor of having a home, a job and being able to plan for the future is difficult, but Boise has many programs for the homeless designed to help them from lapsing back into homelessness. They provide housing, housing supplies, social services, medical attention and legal assistance, all designed to help families and individuals lead healthy, productive lives.

Veaudry works four days a week to educate, find jobs for--and be an all-around helper to--the homeless who drift in from Corpus Christi. She and a corps of volunteers assist the homeless who come through Step Up's door to participate in group arts and crafts activities, prepare for the GED, learn basic work skills like typing and resume building, and apply for jobs. Her responsibilities are so diverse that visitors to the learning center call her by a variety of names.

"Some people call me their counselor; some people call me doctor. It's because I'm a person with authority," Veaudry said.

To Farmer, Veaudry has been a career adviser and someone to talk with about the lifestyle changes brought about by seeking and finding work. As with many homeless, Farmer sees leaving the shelter as entering a world of rules spoken and unspoken. Her new life will be one of taking orders, personal responsibility and keeping a schedule. It's intimidating.

"The only scary part about it is, LaborMax tells you what to do; you don't decide what to do," she said.

According to Veaudry, this is an extension of a mindset held by many homeless.

"There's an absence of rules, an absence of appropriateness," she said. "They do everything publicly."

Farmer has ambitions. Someday she'd like a permanent place to live and a career. Children feature prominently in her vision.

"I definitely want a home and stuff. I want kids someday," she said.

For now her future away from the shelter is a distant but real possibility, and that daunts Farmer. Gainful employment won't just net her money--it will transform her personally. Many of her relationships come from a homeless community where she is already accepted. Upward mobility may jeopardize some of those relationships; it may pivot Farmer's lifestyle away from the familiar toward the unknown.

When Farmer left Veaudry's office to participate in a crafts activity at the learning center, Veaudry described what she looks for in people she can most effectively help out of homelessness: realistic aspirations, reliability and the abilities to focus and extrapolate information from past experiences.

"I'll say, 'Come talk to me tomorrow at 9 o'clock.' If he or she shows up on time, that's what I'm looking for," Veaudry said.

Not everyone can be helped, but Veaudry is working on job and educational skills with about 10 people at a time, and making inroads with up to 25 people she believes have the drive and ability to leave Boise's shelters.

"I'm recruiting like a madwoman," she said.

'What they need is a roof'

In Greg Morris' office are digital photo frames with pictures of his young family, evidence of a penchant for fruit smoothies and a row of books, including Ishmael and a Torah, on his desk's attached bookshelf. A few stacks of paperwork rest on a filing cabinet. The offices of the Charitable Assistance To Community's Homeless Inc. program are as swept, orderly and efficient as the organization's founding principle.

"The homeless are getting services thrown at them when what they need is a roof," said Morris.

CATCH offers families--and only families--up to six months of free rent in local landlord-owned apartments, but only if they are referred to the program by local shelters and school districts. Housing, Morris said, is vital for families to develop a sense of privacy they can't find at shelters. It's an address they can print on job applications and at which they can receive mail. For many homeless, it's a place where services can come to them, rather than the other way around.

"It's hard to make money and save money when [families] are living in a shelter," he said.

Morris' single-minded approach to combating homelessness is effective. CATCH's success rate, as defined by a family's ability to pay its own rent after six months of free housing, is 85-90 percent.

CATCH currently houses 28 families in the Boise area, but as the program expands--it has headquarters in Boise, a satellite office in Nampa and an upcoming office in Twin Falls--it is poised to serve many more. According to Morris, CATCH will have the resources to serve up to 90 families across Southern Idaho, but demand for services has created a waiting list 30 families long.

Morris estimates that the average cost of rent for a family is $600 per month. Multiplied by the six-month duration of the program and case management time, the total cost of the program per family over six months is $6,000.

Morris founded CATCH as a city program in 2006 after being named the housing coordinator for Community House in 2005. The National League of Cities awarded Morris the Silver Award for Municipal Excellence in 2009. Later that year the program made inroads to Canyon County, but two years later, in 2011, Morris was asked to resign from his position at the city of Boise for reasons that remain unexplained--both by Morris and the city. After leaving his job at the city, Morris founded an identical (nonprofit) program called CATCH, Inc. Though much-touted by Boise City Council members during public input sessions for ordinances designed to curb instances of aggressive panhandling in the downtown core, the city's CATCH program hasn't achieved the funds or success rate of its nonprofit counterpart. While the city-run organization pays administrative fees for free housing and related services funded by private donors, Morris' program writes its own grant applications, processes funds and disburses them and services in-house. In October 2012, Morris told Boise Weekly that CATCH Inc. has flexibility where city-run programs don't.

"Let's be honest, donors prefer to give to a 501(c)(3)," he said at the time.