The Other Social Network

Homeless population turns to Boise Public Library's free Internet for a voice


Jimmy Moore wasn't happy. He was upset over how he said he had been treated by a Boise nonprofit. So he went to the social network to vent some steam.

"At least I tell the truth and am willing to help those who need it and not try to destroy someone's life to give it to them to make a name for myself," he wrote on Nov. 8. "I will post the truth and say it the way it is. If you don't like then get the f*** out of the kitchen."

Moore doesn't have a kitchen, a living room or a bed for that matter, to call his own. He's homeless.

"I've been trying to get back on my feet since 2005 after I fell 100 stories down an elevator shaft in Arizona. I broke my back," he said. "I moved here hoping my family would accept me or help me out."

But Moore has few options for respite from January's bitter cold. He said he has been banned from Interfaith Sanctuary, the River Street homeless shelter, since 2009--and has had few kind words about the shelter ever since.

"They can kick you out and never let you back in," he said. "You ought to read the Boise Weekly blog and you'll know who I am and what I'm about."

In order to share his grievances at, like scores of other men and women who don't have a home of their own, Moore makes his way to the main branch of the Boise Public Library after the doors swing open at 10 a.m. (noon on Sundays). As a matter of fact, morning commuters might even notice the approximate 10-block daily migration from downtown Boise's homeless shelters to the downtown library.

"They're part of our key constituents," Kevin Booe told BW.

He should know. As director of the Boise Public Library, Booe's office is one floor away from a daily gathering of homeless men, women and children who had already settled in to warm confines of the library, their layers of scarves and jackets stashed underneath chairs and tables. The temperature outside the building hovered near freezing on a late December afternoon.

Booe said that he had noticed an increase in the number of homeless families utilizing the library's resources in the past five years. In addition to escaping the bitter cold, Booe said Boise's homeless are usually anxious to secure one of 42 computers available to the public to research health issues, access job listings or communicate through social media.

The faces peeking over a "I need help" sign spotted on Boise street corners or near grocery store parking lots are, quite often, also someone's Facebook friend. The cold and hungry huddled underneath the Boise Connector are regularly accessing Craigslist. And those needing to voice their anger, sadness or frustration to a stranger often reach out on comment sections at

The BW website has become a robust forum for readers to vent about homelessness and local shelters, with many comments directed toward the Interfaith Sanctuary.

"Everyone's agreeing that sanc [sic] has turned into a Nazi prison camp," wrote one reader under the online moniker "stadia" on Oct. 4, 2012.

"The homeless do not have a voice with regard to the abuse they suffer in the shelter of Sanctuary night after night," wrote another.

In fact, Heather Ellsworth, who said she stayed at Interfaith Sanctuary from September 2012 until early December 2012, showed BW a petition that current and former residents had shared regarding what they called "unfair treatment."

"It is time for legal action for the protection of the homeless," states the petition. "We were ignored and thrown in the trash."

"I don't think they would let me in the door if they knew what we were doing," she told BW.

Jayne Sorrels, executive director of the Interfaith Sanctuary, quickly dismissed the criticism and said that the negative comments came from disgruntled former residents.

In particular, a number of the former residents took to the Internet to complain about what they claimed was a leaking roof at Interfaith Sanctuary, but Sorrels assured BW that "the roof was no longer leaking."

"We're first and foremost an emergency shelter that depends on community involvement," she said.

As Sorrels spoke to BW, nearly 160 local men, women and children were checking in for the night at the sanctuary, which providing an overnight respite until 7 a.m.

And each morning, shortly after the shelter asks its temporary residents to leave for the day, more homeless gravitate to the Boise Public Library.

"They use more than just our online resources," said Booe, but he added his staff regularly manages the computer access.

"Some do complain that the time limit is too short," he noted.

The library's policy limits daily access to a total of two hours, with no one-time access to last more than one hour. The library also offers additional time--at a rate of $1 per hour--for any user who needs to have more access than two hours per day.

"But we don't really have problems with the homeless community," said Booe.

Meanwhile, one floor away, a number of homeless men and women were accessing Facebook, Google and, some for enjoyment, some for personal grievance.