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Idaho governor sues over encampment near Statehouse

The demonstrators say they're trying to draw attention to a dire lack of housing, but the governor says the area contains "dangerous health and safety violations."

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Tuesday morning that the state is filing a lawsuit to get rid of a group of protestors who have been camped out for months on the Capitol Mall in Boise. 

The demonstrators, who are members of the Boise Mutual Aid group as well as people currently experiencing homelessness, told KTVB they are trying to draw attention to the desperate situation caused by the Treasure Valley's extreme lack of affordable housing and available shelter beds.

The encampment on the former Ada County Courthouse lawn at Jefferson and 6th streets took shape in January after the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission denied a permit to allow Interfaith Sanctuary to move into a new, larger location on West State Street.

Little said he has directed the Idaho Department of Administration to ask for a court order banning people from camping on state property near the Capitol.

“Idaho will not tolerate public encampments and destruction of public property. Idaho is not San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle, where public officials have engaged in failed experiments to permit and encourage public camping disguised as protests," the governor wrote in a statement. “What started here as a gathering of loosely affiliated individuals has escalated into dangerous health and safety violations. This lawsuit is the next step in our deliberate, careful strategy to address a highly complex situation involving state statutes, case law, and the First Amendment while ensuring the state meets its obligation to protect public health and safety."

The Capitol Mall encampment has spurred counter-protests and some arrests, mostly on outstanding warrants. 

Little wrote in a release that issues at the site have increased, including violence, drugs, trash, human waste and fire hazards. Central District Health determined the encampment to be a public health and safety hazard following an inspection.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that Boise laws criminalizing homeless people sleeping or camping in public when there was no alternative shelter were unconstitutional. The City of Boise reached a settlement last year that included $1.335 million for homeless services and expanding shelter space last year, ending the 12-year legal battle.

The governor and the Idaho Attorney General's office argued, however, that there are currently open shelter beds those in the encampment could use, including at the River of Life Men’s Mission and the City Light Home for Women and Children in Boise.

"Contrary to rumors, we are not a ‘high barrier’ shelter and we offer safe, clean shelter, three meals daily and many programs and services all designed to help people recover from homelessness," Boise Rescue Mission's Rev. Bill Roscoe said in a statement. "We will welcome anyone who comes to our door needing assistance."

Several of those camped at the site told KTVB in January that they had been turned away from shelters due to space, and had been sleeping in their cars or on sidewalks.

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