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Tent City Gets Ditched; New Shelter in the Works?

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Plans announced last week by the Idaho Interfaith Alliance to house members of Boise's homeless population in tents have hit the skids after the City of Boise requested the group not construct the impromptu shelter next to Ahavath Beth Israel Synagogue on Latah Street. Instead, supporters are looking for a downtown building to shelter people they say aren't being adequately served by Boise's current services.

In the interim, roughly 50 men, women and children are sleeping on the floor of the First United Church of Christ on Woodlawn Avenue. Officials say they're keeping men separated from the children and letting families stay together.

"Only 10 [of the 51 homeless housed Monday night] came from the Rescue Mission," said Will Rainford of the Catholic Diocese of Idaho. "The argument that there's no need [is moot]. The city agrees there's need. The city agrees what we're doing is the right thing to do."

Rainford said getting to this point was no small feat, but stressed Boise City officials are active partners in helping the alliance. He said the alliance is meeting this week to talk about how to transform the project from a stopgap measure into a permanent charitable organization. Meanwhile, the group has pegged several potential locations for a winter shelter in the downtown core and they expect to announce a site this week, said Rabbi Dan Fink, who is also working with the alliance. But without increased services, both men say, the problem of sheltering homeless in Boise isn't going just going to go away.

"There are two pieces of the story," Fink said. "One is immediate. People are cold, they need shelter right now and we need to do what we can right now. Piece two is we all need to look at the long-term, ongoing problem."

Rainford said the group plans to work with the Boise Rescue Mission, but said there needs to be an alternative to the mission, whose evangelical message and unique rules--such as not allowing husbands and wives to stay together--keep some homeless from seeking help there.

"I'm not questioning the mission's model, but there's a canyon of differences between us," he said. "We hope they will refer people they cannot or will not serve... However, to build a seamless service, we need their help."

In the meantime, anyone needing emergency shelter in Boise can also call the Idaho Careline at 2-1-1 for a list of providers.