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New Path leaders talk first-year challenges, changes at Boise's supportive housing development

Some of the changes include increased staffing at night to provide more support around the clock and assistance with teaching residents life skills.
Credit: Idaho Press
The exterior of the New Path Community Housing facility in Boise, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s first permanent supportive housing development passed its first anniversary in December, and officials have made some changes to make things run smoother for the building’s more than 40 residents.

The Idaho Press reports some of the key players running New Path Community Housing in Boise for people experiencing chronic homelessness gave a presentation Monday at the Idaho Housing and Finance Association’s Conference on Housing & Economic Development. They reviewed the project’s successes and necessary course corrections since residents moved in at the end of 2018.

Some of the changes include increased staffing at night to provide more support around the clock and assistance with teaching residents life skills to prevent costly maintenance and deep cleaning of apartments.

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New Path is a housing development dedicated to residents of Ada County who have been homeless for over a year. More than a third of the residents have no income and the majority have at least one disabling condition, such as a mental health disorder, substance abuse issue or a chronic health condition.

The development operates under a Housing First model, which means residents will be given housing no matter their income or status, and then they will be assisted with supportive services to help them find stability in their lives.

Kendra Lutes, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Terry Reilly Health Services, said the staff has made several changes over the first year as they learn how to best work with residents. One of the changes includes the hiring of a peer support specialist focused on teaching residents how to clean and maintain their apartments and use specific appliances such as dishwashers.

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She said residents were struggling with letting messes in their apartments get to an overwhelming level because they were not sure how to handle that environment.

“What we were finding is we were having people reach a crisis point, and we would have to go in and do a mass cleaning. And to avoid coming up on those crises all the time, we hired somebody to help with that on a regular basis,” Lutes said. “We’ve been having less of those crises in the second half of the project.”

New Path, as of September, had retained over 80% of its residents; Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute is working to complete a formal evaluation.

The other major change in year one was the shift from a hired security guard patrolling the building on weekends to a Terry Reilly support staff member being on site during weeknights and throughout the weekend. Lutes said this staff member is available to support residents and is able to give a report to daytime staff about what is happening in the building, instead of a security guard who does not have a social work background.

“We can tell that staff person, ‘This is going on with this resident, can you keep an eye on them?’ or ‘You might need to do x-y-z. So there’s much better communication about what’s happening in the evening and what’s happening in the daytime,” she said. “It seems to be working really well.”

Residents do not have to be sober to live at New Path. One of the central operating principles of the program is harm reduction, so Lutes said the goal is to keep residents from losing their housing over forcing them to quit using a substance, but they do sometimes advise residents to either curb their use or stop entirely so they can follow the building’s rules and not be evicted.

“Our approach isn’t to go in and say, ‘Hey, you have to stop using,’ but sometimes if people aren’t following the rules because of their use we can help people figure out what they can do to not lose their housing,” Lutes said.

New Path is a partnership of multiple public and private organizations, including the city of Boise, St. Lukes and Saint Alphonsus health systems, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and private developer Northwest Housing Integrity Company.

The operating budget for New Path was roughly $5,470 per unit, with the bulk of the supportive services for residents being funded by Ada County.

Chris Bent, with Northwest Housing Integrity Company, said the partnership among all of the agencies has been humbling as all of the groups learn from each other and how to best collaborate.

“There’s this whole idea of having to trust each other and the humility of, ‘I’m always right, but sometimes I have to be wrong,’ and that was hard,” Bent said. “You have to learn to be able to not always win and to surrender to the other party to make it all work.”

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