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Boise's homeless community getting help during the coronavirus pandemic

A Boise hotel is set to become a refuge for the local homeless community stricken by COVID-19.

BOISE, Idaho — We often hear about how the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

But there's another very vulnerable population that is getting a helping hand through this crisis - Idaho's homeless community.

Soon, the Cottonwood Suites in Boise, which has been sitting empty during the pandemic, will become a refuge for the local homeless community stricken by COVID-19.

"It's 106 rooms. We've leased the entire hotel," said Maureen Brewer, administrator of Our Path Home. "And that hotel will be where we can isolate, where we can quarantine people experiencing homelessness in Ada County."

Anyone in the homeless community who's tested positive for coronavirus will be placed at the hotel.

"So that we can make sure that we're not exposing an entire shelter system," Brewer said.

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Our Path Home is a public-private partnership working to end homelessness in Ada County. Brewer says the city of Boise will pay the $70,000 a month bill for the hotel, with federal reimbursements to come.

"The city is going to front the cost of emergency response to make sure that not only our homeless population is protected to the best of our ability because they are at a higher risk for the virus, but also the community at large that we're doing our part to flatten the curve," Brewer said.

Also in place - a screening protocol at all homeless shelters in the area.

"When they check in and when we re-register people, we ask them how they're feeling, do they have any cough, shortness of breath. We check their temperatures," said Rev. Bill Roscoe, president and CEO of the Boise Rescue Mission.

The Rescue Mission has been extremely fortunate so far in this outbreak.

"As of right now we've tested close to 40 people and we've not had one positive COVID-19 test," Roscoe said.

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The homeless coalition is also preparing for what they expect to be a second wave of the pandemic.

"We're just tracking unemployment rates and all those folks living paycheck to paycheck with a full-time job that maybe now are furloughed or unemployed and what that's going to look like in terms of needing to step in with rental assistance for homeless prevention," Brewer said.

Emergency money from the CARES Act will help.

"We can rehouse individuals or families experiencing homelessness with those funds and get them off the street, out of the shelters and into permanent housing," Brewer said. "And we can also do homeless prevention with those dollars. So we're working on that mid- to long-range plan right now."

And, the Boise Rescue Mission will be ready too, just as they have been for the community for 62 years now.

"We're just going to go right back to business as usual and help people make the process of recovering from homelessness," Roscoe said. "We had capacity before this happened, and we'll have capacity when it's over in order to take people in and to help them get into programs of recovery."

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