BOISE -- Rhodes Park under the Connector in Boise is once again home to several people living homeless in Boise.
The population there surged over the summer as they sought out shade in frequently triple-digit temperatures. It is perfectly legal to hang out at the skate park during the day, but city officials and police say they're making sure the park doesn't become an overnight campground.
"It's a public space and people have a constitutional right to be in a public space if they're a member of the public," City of Boise Spokesman Mike Journee said. "We've seen the gatherings as well and I know [Boise PD] is keeping a close eye on it to make sure the behavior is appropriate, especially for a public space and especially a public space near children."
In June, once the total revamp of Rhodes Park was completed, dozens of individuals started to congregate down here. It's a public space and near homeless shelters and other services.
"A skate park is a skate park, it's not supposed to be that way," one homeless individual, Daniel Smith, said.
Smith has been homeless in Boise for four months.
"And I do it to myself... and the only place I got is a shelter."
He used to hang out down at Rhodes Park.
"I did when I first got here, then this got worse and worse," Smith told KTVB. "I see a lot of people doing a lot of things I don't like."
The Boise Police Department said in July and August, there were a lot more homeless gathering along the edges of the park than the previous summer.
"They're family," Interfaith Sanctuary Housing Services co-director, Jodi Peterson, said. "They stay together in a pack to protect each other."
But police tell us that did lead to an uptick in drugs, calls about fights and disturbances, and cars parking along the curb, causing safety concerns surrounding pedestrians and traffic.
"Yes, it's scary," Smith added. "It's just not right."
So about two weeks ago, law enforcement prohibited parking under the overpass - which they say has helped tremendously, upped their patrols to keep a proactive presence, and continues to keep a working relationship with the folks hanging down here.
The day crowds head elsewhere at night - whether it's on the streets near the shelters, in parks, bathrooms, or near the Boise River. Many also stay inside at Interfaith Sanctuary or one of the Boise Rescue Mission Shelters.
Overnight public camping is illegal in the City of Boise and officials are diligent in making sure it doesn't occur.
"We're basically taking a no tolerance stance on it," Journee said. "It's ticketing, it's enforcement, it's keeping a close eye on the situation, and making sure that they understand the rules."
Those involved with the homeless community are hopeful the situation won't turn into something similar to the tent city that formed in 2015, otherwise known as Cooper Court.
"I don't feel like there's a threat of an impending tent city happening anywhere," Peterson told KTVB.
As one Boise Police officer who patrols the Rhodes Park area told us: they can't arrest or enforce their way out of the problem.
The city needs a solution.
"One of the best tools we have to mitigate what's been happening and what you're seeing there is the opening of a new Housing First facility," Journee said. "An effort to help those who need our help the most."
New Path Community Housing, a Housing First development for 40 of our area's chronically homeless, is breaking ground on Wednesday afternoon. It will provide some of our community's most vulnerable wrap-around services to address the root causes of their homelessness to truly help them break the cycle. You can find more details in this story.
In a press release sent Tuesday, Mayor Dave Bieter said:
"The Housing First model – getting people off of the streets and out of the shelters while giving them the opportunity to address the root causes of their homelessness – has proven very effective at reducing chronic homelessness in other communities.
"We couldn't be more pleased with the way community partners are stepping up to address this challenging need for our most vulnerable residents."
To fund the project, the City of Boise is partnering with Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA), Ada County, St. Luke's Health System, and Saint Alphonsus Health System.
Terry Reilly Health Services and CATCH, Inc. (Charitable Assistance to Community's Homeless) are service providers at New Path, with federal housing vouchers provided by the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority.
"Many community leaders and organizations have come together to make this project a reality," Gerald M. Hunter, president and executive director of IHFA, said in the press release Tuesday. "It is our privilege to help finance this initial implementation of the Housing First approach that we believe will help heal and restore the lives of many homeless individuals and families."
Still, there are hundreds of other homeless in our area with only one true day-time shelter to turn to before 6 p.m.
"We have to improve the ability to provide more resources and places for them to be. I just think that until we can do that, let's try and give them some places to be that are at least comfortable until we get caught up," Peterson added. "Things are happening. We just don't have all the things ready to make sure that as many people as possible can be comfortable."
Some folks choose not to stay at shelters because they don't want to follow rules and restrictions or they are considered "shelter resistant" - meaning they have mental illness or addiction problems they suffer with that don't allow them to stay at shelters.
"I have PTSD and I'm bipolar so I can't - too many voices, too many people," Smith said.
"Staying in a shelter, being around other people, maybe their anxiety level is higher being in a dorm with dozens of other people," Boise Rescue Mission Men's Ministry Director Jacob Lang said.
Interfaith and Boise Rescue Mission shelters say they won't turn anyone away or they'll work to find accommodations - especially with winter right around the corner.
"Typically, we're not open during the day. I know Corpus Christi provides a day shelter so that's the opportunity for them to go inside. But when the weather is rainy or snowing or it's really cold we'll absolutely open the doors up," Lang told KTVB. "We want everyone to come here and obviously get out of the cold as their weather is changing."
"We have an overflow room. We never turn anyone out into the street in the cold weather. We refer them to another shelter and if those shelters are not able to accommodate them, we find a place for them to stay," Peterson added.
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