"We had no warning about this," she said. "I'm terrified for you."
Cooper Court was the symbol of Boise's ongoing struggle with homelessness, and clearing it has long been on the docket for Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who listed homelessness as one of his top three agenda items during his reelection campaign. Residents of the tent city woke up the morning of Nov. 19 to written warnings to vacate the area, and many of them said they had seen the city's move coming.
- Harrison Berry
- Demonstrators protest the city sweeping Cooper Court
"Homelessness shouldn't be criminalized," she said.
That sentiment was common at the rally, where people held up signs reading "Bieter Hates Jesus" and chanted, "Homelessness is not a crime."
- Harrison Berry
- Speaking at Fort Boise, Mayor Dave Bieter outlines the city's actions regarding Cooper Court
Linnean, who is experiencing homelessness, said he didn't live in Cooper Court but agreed with protesters like Pederson that the city had effectively made homelessness illegal. He added that Boise's continuum of care encouraged dependency on the government, clearing Cooper Court lacked forethought and the city could do more to develop a better spectrum of housing options.
"We're not looking at alternatives," he said, referencing Boise Alternative Shelter Co-Op's suggestion of building mini-shelters.
At a 10 a.m. press conference at Fort Boise Community Center, Bieter and Boise Police Chief Bill Bones outlined the city's actions regarding Cooper Court. Police officers would close the tent city, offering residents $125 Salvation Army vouchers or offer to tag their property so it could be returned to them after clearing the access road.
Meanwhile, anyone from Cooper Court could go to the police tent on River Street for a hot sandwich and chili while waiting for an airport shuttle to take them to Fort Boise. That's where they could receive basic medical care, pick up clean clothing from the Salvation Army and be paired with social services.
- Harrison Berry
- Boise police negotiators at Cooper Court speaking with residents.
Citing health and safety concerns for people living in Cooper Court, Bieter also declared an emergency situation, granting the city temporary powers to close off the area surrounding the encampment, remove civilians and limit press access.
"It frames the issues and allows some authority," Bieter said.
Bones told the assembled press that closing Cooper Court was a function of compassion rather than enforcement, and allowing people to live in unsafe conditions there was "unfair." Responding to concern that the action was sudden, he said the city and Boise Police Department had given plenty of indications that the encampment at Cooper Court was unsustainable.
"We've let people know we were going to do this," he said.
Meanwhile, at the encampment, Boise police had begun closing off Cooper Court and negotiators worked to remove people from tents and lean-tos.
According to III Percent of Idaho volunteer Kai Evans, who was helping tag residents' property, those who remained in the tent city were concerned that if they left their personal items behind, they would never see them again. While some residents showed resignation in the face of the police sweep, a man calling himself "Sloan" and others began building barricades against officers built from hunks of rusting metal appliances, old furniture and anything heavy they could find.
"Cops got barricades. Why shouldn't we? They want to be in control of the situation, why shouldn't we be in control of the situation?" he said.
- Jessica Murri
- A few Cooper Court residents set up a makeshift barricade to keep police out.
Grooms said he hoped to receive some kind of housing services from the city as a result of the sweep, and that was why he, unlike many other former residents, had gone to the hospitality tent. Grooms said he works in traffic control, and had become homeless while waiting to retire. He said he will "hit the road" when he begins receiving Social Security checks.
"It will be great for me—it'll help me solve some of the problems I have working," he said.