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Jodi Peterson-Stigers is the executive director at Interfaith Sanctuary.

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Interfaith Sanctuary has been planning a move to a new location on State Street. The proposed move has a lot of residents in the area asking questions and the nonprofit is now waiting to submit the application to move while it speaks with more people and neighborhood associations in the area. People are nervous about the move and many say that having the shelter in the area will boost crime and bring down property value. BW decided to get some answers directly from the horses mouth, so to speak, and Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers obliged.

BW: Why is it necessary for Interfaith Sanctuary to secure a new location?

JS: Interfaith Sanctuary expanded our locations when the pandemic hit last March. We currently serve 140 single men and women at our emergency shelter site. Our families with children and our most medically fragile were moved to a hotel location. This hotel site is able to serve an additional 87 guests. Interfaith Sanctuary has developed a Senior/ Medically fragile program within this hotel program because of the ability to provide home health and hospice to our guests because of the privacy they are afforded by a hotel room. Our families with children are able to stay together in their own rooms in this hotel setting, which really reduces the trauma and stress of an emergency shelter setting. When the pandemic is over and the funding that has supported this hotel style shelter goes away, our emergency shelter will not have the ability to maintain the numbers of guests we are serving. Because of the open dorm setting we will not be able to provide the same care to our seniors and medically fragile and our family program only has space for 40 family members in the emergency shelter. This new shelter will allow us to take all of the programming that we have been able to develop due to COVID and create a permanent space for those services. Families will have their own units and their own building allowing them to stay segregated from the general population. This new building will also have medical units providing privacy and programming to help better serve this fragile population.

BW: How many people will Interfaith be able to help at the new location?

JS: The current proposed number is 267 guests

BW: Some people say that having the shelter will increase crime in the area, can you comment on that?

JS: This campus will be designed to create a safe space for our guests to be during the day. There will be a day shelter, computer room, case management and supportive services along with programming focused on recovery and mental health. The guests will be welcome to participate in all daytime offerings and will receive their breakfast, lunch and dinner on site. The survival crimes occur when our homeless have no place to be during the day. They are stuck outside with little access to bathrooms, showers, or storage for their items and a feeling of safety. This campus creates a welcoming setting with an outdoor space offering a park like setting, a community garden and outside dining. Our families with Children will have their own building which will offer a full time preschool, family programs and supportive services. The kids will have their own safe space to play with an outdoor playground. The teens will have a teen/computer room for their studies and activities.

BW: If you are unable to secure the location, what will be the next step?

JS: We chose this building for its accessibility to transportation, services, and employment opportunities along with the increased size and current zoning. There are strict requirements for what buildings can be used for providing these types of residences and services, which reduces the options dramatically for looking at possible locations. This building is within a zone that permits its use upon approval of a conditional use permit by the planning and zoning commission. There is no location in the city of Boise that does not require a conditional use permit for the provision of these types of residences and services. These same issues will arise and the same review will occur regardless of where the Interfaith Sanctuary’s campus is located. We would hope that the objection to the Interfaith Sanctuary is not based solely upon the residents and guests it serves. It seems that the biggest concern is who we will be serving in the building, our homeless population, including families with children, senior and medically fragile plus single men and women. Our hope is that we are able to continue having conversations with neighbors to come up with solutions together on the items that are most concerning to them. We have been able to work with some neighbors to ensure the fencing height is increased on the backside of the property to assure them privacy. We are delaying the submission of our conditional use permit application to the City of Boise to allow us more time to meet with the neighborhoods and see if we can find some common ground around this project. Everyone deserves to have a safe place to sleep and be cared for. This new project offers a solution that inspires second chances and creates a space for our homeless to be day and night.

BW: The current shelter space downtown is unable to provide for everyone’s needs and many people end up congregating in the alley. Can you explain how the new space can alleviate that and how will the drop-in program effect the neighborhood?

JS: Cooper Court Alley has been empty since we opened up the Warming Shelter in November. The reason for this is that the temporary shelter provides enough space and services for the current daytime shelter needs. This day shelter serves Interfaith Sanctuary Guests, Boise Rescue Mission Clients plus our unsheltered population. This daytime shelter was created to address the need during COVID to be able to provide a safe space for our homeless to be during the day. Once we are on the other side of this pandemic Corpus Christi House will reopen its full operations and will be able to serve the downtown homeless population including clients from River of Life and City Lights and our unsheltered. Interfaith’s new location will offer its own daytime shelter program available to our guests. Corpus Christi House will continue operating in their same location as a daytime drop in shelter for those utilizing downtown shelters and for the unsheltered population.

BW: Some people may think houselessness is a choice. Can you speak to how interfaith helps people from all walks of life and how the programs can help people get back on their feet?

JS: There are so many different stories and reasons our guests have come to us for shelter and support. They are moms, dads, babies, grandparents, guests struggling with addictions, many guests who are employed but can’t get access to housing, students with no home, guests with medical and mental health challenges, 18-year-old’s that aged out of foster care, guests without identification who can’t do anything until we can get them their identity back. All of our guests are fighting their way back from some sort of challenge. Our programming is set up to meet them where they are at with a case management team, an on-site Recovery and Mental Health program, a work program and food service training program, a preschool for our little’s, parenting and family strengthening programs, on-line school for our school age kids, we offer support to our seniors and chronically sick guests through health service partnerships. Not everyone is ready for help right away but by having access to all these programs and supportive services we increase the chances for our guests to connect and begin their journey back out of homelessness.

Q&A With the Executive Director of Interfaith Sanctuary

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