BOISE -- A long legal battle between the city of Boise and a homeless shelter is over. A jury sided with the homeless shelter and upheld the charge that the city discriminated against and women and children. The jury also ordered the city to pay $1 million to Community House Inc. in damages.
Back in 1994, the Community House opened its doors. It was an emergency shelter for families, funded by grants and donations. The building was owned by the city of Boise.
About a decade later, city leaders had concerns over what they saw as poor management of the shelter. In 2005, Boise entered into a lease-and-purchase agreement on that property with the Boise Rescue Mission, which turned Community House into the River of Life Shelter (for men only).
"The homeless women and children, they were evicted," said Howard Belodoff, the attorney for Community House.
In 2005, Belodoff filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Community House, claiming the city discriminated against homeless women and children who now had to find somewhere else to go. The suit also claimed the city denied funding and maintenance, after some shelter board members complained.
"They converted a city of Boise building to men only. It's no different than if they would've put up a 'white only' sign on it," said Belodoff. "This is pure intentional discrimination here."
The city denied and fought those claims. The case bounced around for years in numerous courts. Wednesday night in District Court, a jury finally handed down a verdict, awarding $1 million in damages to Community House.
City representatives weren't willing to go on camera to respond. But Communications Director Adam Park did release a statement. It says in part, "The award of damages is without basis, as no evidence of specific financial loss was presented at trial."
Park also says the city will appeal the decision.
"They violated federal law, they violated the state constitution, and they need to be held accountable for that," says Belodoff. "They caused a lot of harm to a lot of people."
Again, Boise denies that, saying in the statement, "The city did not engage in any discrimination. Instead, it worked to provide housing for women and families in other local programs."
Pending the appeal, the Community House, which is now more of an advocacy group, says through their lawyer that they hope to put all $1 million into helping the homeless in the community.
Also, they say they have no problem with the good work done by the Rescue Mission, just that they play a different role in helping the homeless than Community House.
Park says no taxpayer money would go to pay the damages because Boise holds an insurance policy for such verdicts. However, he couldn't say if insurance would cover the city if it has to pay attorney fees for both parties, which is common in civil rights cases.