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Studies underway to find ways to end family homelessness in Boise, Ada County

“What we’re really looking at here is we don’t want Ada County to be Seattle, Portland or San Francisco."
Homeless people camped out in Boise. (Photo: KTVB)

BOISE, Idaho — The city’s plans to lead the charge on ending family homelessness in Ada County are coming into focus.

On Tuesday, the Boise City Council, the Ada County Board of Commissioners and their staff met to discuss regional growth, capital improvements and other services. During the meeting, Boise Director of Community Partnerships Wyatt Schroeder provided details on Mayor Dave Bieter’s proposal to end family homelessness in Ada County, which he first brought forward in his State of the City speech last month.

RELATED: Mayor Bieter highlights efforts to reduce homelessness during State of the City address

“The goal as we defined it was to prevent homelessness whenever possible, house families as rapidly as possible and ensure that families only ever have to experience it once,” Schroeder told council and the commissioners.

Although Bieter launched the idea, Schroeder said this effort would be led by a partnership between Boise, Ada County and private philanthropy. Details are still coming; there are two ongoing studies to determine the resources it would take to accomplish this goal.

One of the studies, which is being finalized by Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute, examines what it would take to prevent family homelessness. Ada County is conducting a study to examine the feasibility of using private donations from the community to address the homelessness problem.

RELATED: 'Sleepless In The Valley' raises awareness of homelessness in the Treasure Valley

Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo said county staff will start interviewing philanthropists in the area in the coming months to gauge interest in the project. If the results are favorable, the county will be dedicating $500,000 from its budget toward the effort.

“What we’re really looking at here is we don’t want Ada County to be Seattle, Portland or San Francisco, and we think we have a window right now to tackle this issue head on,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “The government can’t do it alone, and we’re looking to see if the private community is looking to come alongside us.”

She said the funding details are still being worked out, but the money would go to three types of programs: preventing families from getting evicted, paying first month's rent or deposits for families in need, and funding supportive housing — which includes permanent places to live with social services to help residents get back on their feet. 

This would not be the first time Ada County and the city of Boise have collaborated to address homelessness. Both governments are part of the countywide, public-private partnership to address homelessness called Our Path Home, which launched in May 2017. This provides a regional partnership for agencies and nonprofits to work together to address homelessness, as well as a centralized place for those in need to seek help.

This partnership means county officials have data on homelessness that has never been available before, including reasons for becoming homeless and the demographics of those without a roof over their head. According to Schroeder, there is an average of 178 families experiencing homelessness in the county at any given time, and they are usually homeless for roughly five months before finding their footing again. Ninety percent of them are without a permanent place to stay for the first time.

RELATED: New data shows homelessness on the rise across Idaho

While 44% of them say domestic violence is why they are experiencing homelessness, Schroeder said rapidly rising rents that have outpaced incomes is the largest contributing factor to people finding themselves without shelter.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Lachiondo clarified that just because the county and the city want to focus on homeless families does not mean it is abandoning the roughly 400 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county.

“Just because we focus on families with children doesn’t mean we’re leaving behind others,” she said. “I think there’s additional opportunities with Medicaid expansion to think about how we’re providing services to those individuals.”

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