Boise, and particularly those who serve Boise's homeless community, say the city has a problem with "stuff." And the problem is growing, literally, to the point where community caregivers have adopted a combined message: "Donate wisely."
"It's possible that help sometimes isn't helpful," said Interfaith Sanctuary Director Jayne Sorrels. "Our hearts are in the right place and everybody has great intentions. People see a need and want to help. Many of the items are donated by a very generous community. But too often, those items are not being used and they're accumulating."
For the past several months, an increasing number of homeless men, women and children have spent many of their days and nights on Americana Boulevard in the shadow of the Boise Connector (BW, News, "A Bridge to Nowhere," Aug. 6, 2014). And as the summer's sweltering heat gave way to near-freezing nighttime temperatures, the numbers have not subsided.
"It's definitely growing," Sorrels told BW.
When Boise Weekly sat down with soon-to-retire Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, the city's top cop made a point of referring to the accumulation of "stuff" among the homeless on Americana.
"My officers see Boise as a generous community where citizens give a lot of stuff to the homeless, yet we don't provide any place for the homeless to store all of that stuff in the daytime," said Masterson.
That issue has become more critical, according to Sorrels and other caregivers.
"We're fortunate to live in a caring and loving community where residents are always willing to help a neighbor in need. But in this case, when people leave items under the overpass, much of the clothing and food end up being wasted," said Corpus Christi House Mission Coordinator Marc Schlegel.
Some of those items are not the blankets or sleeping bags usually donated to the homeless.
"There are even mattresses and television sets; absolutely anything you can imagine," said Sorrels.
While the accumulation of stuff has defined the daily gathering of homeless on Americana, Sorrels said there has also been a dramatic build-up of stuff in the alley that runs behind the Interfaith Sanctuary.
"The name of that alley is Cooper Court. It's actually an Ada County Highway District thoroughfare. And we've had a pretty big problem there as well," said Sorrels. "We had to call 911 recently and a fire truck couldn't get through. And garbage collection trucks couldn't get through because people and objects were in the way. It's become a life and safety issue."
All of this has prompted Interfaith, along with Corpus Christi House and the Boise Rescue Mission, to urge the community to donate much-needed items to the shelters rather than drop them off directly to the homeless on Americana.
"We have the space to properly store the items and then hand them out to those in need, ensuring that the community's donations are maximized," said Boise Rescue Mission Director Rev. Bill Roscoe.
Those needs are rather specific, depending on the shelter. For example, the Rescue Mission is in need of food--frozen turkeys, milk, coffee, ground beef, chicken, peanut butter and jelly. Interfaith is in particular need of sleeping bags, blankets, coats, jackets, gloves and toiletries. At Corpus Christi House, caregivers said they need food, such as sandwiches and breakfast items, in addition to belts and backpacks, clothes, hygiene items and coffee mugs and silverware.
"We collaborate with Corpus a lot," said Sorrels. "Things are getting pretty cold and we're making sure that everyone gets coats. We'll bring the leftovers over to Corpus, because they have a much bigger clothing room than we do. Each of us has a particular piece of the puzzle."
Meanwhile, the Oct. 28 beating death of 37-year-old Rusty Bitton on Americana Boulevard remains a central topic of conversation among Boise's homeless community. Boise police detectives found Bitton had died from blunt force trauma to the head. Witnesses said his death followed the violent beatings of another man and woman. Prosecutors have linked 24-year-old Scotty Turnbull to Bitton's assault, but no formal charges have been filed in the homicide. Turnbull has been charged with the other two beatings and remains at the Ada County Jail, where he is being held on $1 million bond.
"Whenever someone in the homeless community dies for whatever reason, there's an impact here," Sorrels said from the Interfaith Sanctuary, a half-block from the crime scene. "But when there's a violent crime, it stirs everything up. We tried a variety of things, including having our social workers more available in the evenings. For the first several days, people were mad, afraid, depressed, a combination of things."
Sorrels said a fair amount of the homeless community continues to talk about the incident.
"It's important to give people the opportunity to process all of that," she said.