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Boise, Ada County spar over homeless housing program

County officials have been critical of New Path’s “Housing First” model, while Boise council members last week intervened to ensure the program stays funded.
Credit: Bryan Myrick/Idaho Press
The exterior of the New Path Community Housing facility in Boise in December 2018.

BOISE, Idaho — The city of Boise is boosting funding for New Path Community Housing, a permanent housing locale for the chronically homeless. That’s after Ada County, which jointly funds the program with the city and local health services, trimmed funding to New Path in fiscal year 2022 as county officials consider supporting a broader range of programs.

The two government bodies appear at odds over their approach to providing homeless services, the Idaho Press reports. County officials have been critical of New Path’s “Housing First” model, while Boise council members last week intervened to ensure the program stays funded.

After unanimously approving a $335,000 appropriation increase Tuesday, Boise City Council members rebuked Ada County commissioners for their decision to pull funding from New Path ahead of the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

“There’s no really good argument that withdrawing that funding was a good idea,” Councilman Patrick Bageant said. “There’s no credible argument that every time Ada County drops the ball on its obligation the Boise taxpayers can step-in and carry that.”

New Path Community Housing is a 40-unit housing complex in Boise with apartments and supportive services for formerly homeless Ada County residents. It opened in 2018.

New Path is a “Permanent Supportive Housing” and “Housing First” program. That means individuals and families experiencing homelessness are provided permanent housing without preconditions, and they’re offered supportive services such as case management, substance dependence treatment and mental health support.

Construction of the facility was funded by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and the city of Boise. Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities assigned 40 housing vouchers to the program. Local health care systems St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus each donated $100,000 for the program’s first two years, to fund on-site health care services, which are provided by Terry Reilly Health Services. At the request of county commissioners, the hospitals increased their contribution by $20,000 each this year.

Until recently, Ada County chipped in $312,000 for on-site services, as well. The county is statutorily responsible for funding indigent services, or financial assistance to those in need, including for medical expenses, cremation, certain utilities and rent.

Ahead of the 2022 fiscal year, Ada County commissioners decided to reduce the county’s New Path contribution from $312,000 to $200,000. And rather than exclusively fund on-site services at New Path, commissioners are looking to redirect the funds to support other services, such as substance abuse recovery and transitional housing programs.

“The commissioners have (met) with both hospitals as well as with Terry Reilly and requested they collaborate on a plan that shows how Ada County can best support all indigent people needing mental health services and/or drug and alcohol treatment,” Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said in an email.

Kenyon said she suggested using federal COVID-19 relief money to build capacity for those services. She also noted that New Path residents would still benefit from new programs.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Rod Beck told the Idaho Press the county hopes to leverage New Path funds to provide services to a broader range of Ada County residents, not just those who live in the permanent housing community. Expanding Allumbaugh House, an addiction treatment center in Boise operated by Terry Reilly, is one option, Beck said.

Those plans will be publicized in the coming weeks, Kenyon said.

During a budget workshop this summer, Beck said he opposed New Path’s “Housing First” model and would prefer “Treatment First,” which requires sobriety before independent housing is provided to people who are homeless.

Boise Councilwoman Holli Woodings noted Tuesday that New Path saves money. According to a recent study by Boise State University, New Path achieved $2.66 million in savings for the community over two years by reducing the use of reactive services, such as the emergency medical system and criminal justice system. Over 70% of New Path residents regularly engage in on-site services, the report said.

“It’s really a tremendous investment in our community,” Woodings said Tuesday. “It’s humane, it’s a way that we can help folks who have been experiencing homelessness long-term live in a way that is not harmful to them or our community.”

Council President Elaine Clegg also mentioned that the county is statutorily responsible for providing indigent services while Boise is not.

“The city of Boise is doing this because we know that it’s the best thing to do for those citizens who rely on this,” Clegg said. “But I do look forward, over the next year, to working with all of the partners who work in this space and finding a more sustainable solution to funding the much needed services …”

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