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On Jan. 5 Boise Mutual Aid set up warming and food tents outside of the Idaho State Capitol building. They were made to move at sundown.

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On the evening of Jan. 5, Boise City re-sent a press release it had originally sent two weeks prior, stating it’s working to help support unhoused people. The city is supplementing shelter beds and opening a day warming shelter in downtown Boise that will be open until March 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. seven days a week at 511 S. Americana Boulevard.

According to Jon Rogers, who has been experiencing houselessness for about five years, it’s not enough.

“Day warming, what about night warming,” said Rogers. “The temperature is so low now at night and you just can’t stay warm. I’ve had a heart attack because I had a heating stove in my tent and I got carbon monoxide poisoning. Day spaces are a start but it’s not enough. If the city just listened or asked questions it would be a game changer. Everybody on the street needs something different. We’re individuals.”

On that same evening, a group of people experiencing houselessness and Boise Mutual Aid, a community group that works to help people living on the street, had set up in Cecil D. Andrus Park across from the Idaho State Capitol to highlight the problem that many people don’t have anywhere to go. Eve Giustino, one of Boise Mutual Aid’s members, said they had set up warming tents and food tents — but at sundown the police came and told them to move.

The city said despite the police shutting down Mutual Aid’s makeshift solution, it was seeking to provide remedies to the situation.

“Our top priority two weeks ago when we sent the original news release, and last night, was communicating to anyone experiencing homelessness that there was a safe, indoor option for them to shelter,” wrote City of Boise’s Communication Director Justin Corr in an email. “Our Path Home has both an additional warm up day shelter space (again, announced in a press release two weeks ago) and nightly shelter space available every day.”

The Our Path Home is a private and public partnership by the City of Boise that works to end houselessness in Ada County.

“The City issued last night’s press release to ensure that the increased shelter capacity was widely understood and publicly available — especially for folks who needed to access that service and might have been misinformed about their options,” wrote Corr. “That is also why the Our Path Home OUTREACH team went to Cecil Andrus Park — ensuring anyone seeking overnight shelter was aware of their options. Interfaith Sanctuary successfully operated the overflow program last night to provide a safe shelter experience to anyone who sought that through Our Path Home.”

Giustino said this response is indicative of the way the city has dealt with the houselessness population in Boise — and many people on the street choose not to enter shelters for a variety of reasons.

“Shelters don’t work for everyone. We’ve had people say they have to make the choice to freeze or maybe having a heater catch fire in their tent; many people choose to freeze rather than risk being burned,” she said. “At this point we need to pull back and look at how we can do something. There’s so much unused space that could be made available but instead we criminalize people that don’t have a house.”

The City of Boise also said there are several shelters like Interfaith Sanctuary that have added beds on a night-by-night basis.

“Our Path Home’s emergency overnight shelter system currently provides 745 beds on a nightly basis to individuals experiencing homelessness, which includes the temporary non-congregate, hotel shelter capacity currently being offered by Interfaith Sanctuary where the City of Boise is the financial guarantor,” wrote Corr.

In response to the city providing more shelter beds, Rogers said that like many other people, night shelters are not a place he frequents.

“First off there’s so many people crammed into one space and it gives me horrible anxiety,” said Rogers. “I’ve suffered from panic attacks and if you want to take a step outside and get some air, you can’t come back in and there are no arrangements for people that work at night. They treat people like kids. Last time I checked I was 50 not 5. Make something else, it feels like jail. Make something that feels like a home so we can try to get one.”

Rogers said there’s a huge misconception that people without houses don’t work, are lazy or enjoy living on the street — he said that’s simply not true. No one wakes up and decides to be without a home. Many people in Idaho are living paycheck to paycheck and that can mean just one large bill away from losing a place. Rogers said that once a person experiences houselessness it’s a process of moving further and further away from getting back on their feet.

“It’s almost impossible to get a job,” said Rogers. “First you have to have transportation, a phone, ID and then there’s the constant harassment by the police. I can’t sleep anywhere,” he said. “It’s virtually impossible to get out of the hole you’re in.”

Corr stated The City of Boise task force works closely with the Boise Police Department to serve the homeless community.

“The city recognizes that ticketing people experiencing homelessness for sleeping outside is not an effective response to homelessness,”Corr wrote. “That is why the city will continue to focus on evidence-based solutions, including investments in permanent supportive housing so that everyone in our city has a place to call home.”

Giustino said it’s important to point out the way that charity and shelters often operate: trading personal autonomy for resources and putting the blame on the people instead of on the system they have to operate under.

“That’s why we say solidarity, not charity,” said Giustino. “We need to start thinking outside the box to help people. The ingenuity and creativity among this population is amazing. Even if the city just gave some small outdoor space where people could have tents and park cars safely (that) would be a start. Donations help but it’s not the root issue. When we get resources without space many get lost or stolen; it’s a never ending cycle.”

In 2015, the Cooper Court tent town in Boise was torn down by the city but Rogers said it wasn’t a dangerous place and the people that lived there had pride in their community and worked to take care of each others’ needs.

Giustino agrees with Rogers’ assessment.

“There’s always some big argument about tent cities like they aren’t safe but that’s just an excuse,” said Giustino. “People do unsafe things all the time in their homes all the time and we aren’t banning houses. Violence, rape, drug use … that happens all the times inside people’s homes. This is criminalizing poverty. The world we live in only gives autonomy through wealth.”

Rogers said Boise Mutual Aid has helped give people back some self-respect as well as basic needs and said for the past two years the community goes to the distribution every week like church. He said that just being listened to and treated like a person has given him and others hope. Rogers called the aid group “a Godsend.” He said it brings the unhoused community together in a positive way — he also volunteers now whenever he can. People are helping people because they care, not because they want to cover up the problem, said Rogers.

“We will not allow our neighbors to sleep on frozen streets,” Corr wrote in the email. “The issue of homelessness and the need for shelter, which has been in multiple headlines this week, is exactly why the city needs to be able to ensure shelter can be sited, provided and open day and night. As a community,” he wrote, “we must ensure we have enough shelter to provide to our neighbors that need it until we can solve the housing affordability crisis our city is facing.”

What would Rogers would say to Mayor Lauren McLean if given the chance?

“Call your dogs off and let us live like people,” said Rogers. “Don’t treat me like a rabid dog, treat me like a person. We get harassed every day and it’s so tiresome. We’re just trying to live through each day and that’s not a life. We want to be alive, not just surviving. Give people a space and don’t try to control them,” he said. “Eradicate the homeless myth, not the homeless.”

People can contact Boise Mutual Aid through Instagram @boisemutualaid to volunteer or donate resources. The group distributes every Monday at 5 p.m. at Rhodes Skatepark. People can also contact the city of Boise’s Our Path Home for more information on resources.

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