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Ada Co. denies City of Boise's request to continue funding hotel shelter

The Red Lion on Fairview Avenue has 87 beds available for medically fragile people, homeless families and senior citizens.

BOISE, Idaho — The Red Lion on Fairview Avenue just west of downtown Boise isn't just another hotel — it also houses medically fragile people, homeless families with children and senior citizens. 

But making sure those people have a roof over their heads takes money. Lately, that money has come from Ada County, but funds from the county will run out in mid-April, Ada County spokesperson Elizabeth Duncan said. 

To keep the shelter open, the City of Boise recently requested more money from the county, which county commissioners unanimously voted to deny on Tuesday. 

"We're pretty firm on the time limit we've given them, hoping it would be enough to find new funding or a more permanent solution," Commissioner Ryan Davidson said. 

The hotel shelter opened in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jodi Peterson-Stigers, Interfaith Sanctuary executive director. While Interfaith runs all of the shelter's programming, the City of Boise helps secure money for the shelter. 

"The City of Boise writes grants to these different funding streams," Peterson-Stigers said. "They utilize those grants to pay the hard costs for the lease on the hotel." 

It has been a long back and forth between the city and the county. Duncan said the city originally asked the county for $2.6 million in October. The county countered and gave $697,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money to help cover the shelter's costs for four months. 

Since city officials didn't get all the money they hoped for, they came back for a second time. They asked county commissioners to give them the remaining $2 million. 

That money would have funded the hotel shelter through March 2024 until Interfaith can open its new homeless shelter, Peterson-Stigers said.

Their current shelter is at capacity. 

During Tuesday's meeting, Davidson said providing that much money isn't the solution to the lack of available beds. 

"We're paying hotel rates to shelter people that should be in a proper facility," he said. "I don't know if it's sustainable for too much longer."

While Peterson-Stigers said she is disappointed in the commissioners' decision, she understands their concerns. She believes it will take the city, the county and the state to address some of the systemic housing issues. 

The hotel shelter has 87 beds. To keep up with demand, Peterson-Stigers said they hired more staff. They also provide food and transportation, which adds onto the bill. 

"Our operations budget has gone from, you know, I think it was probably $750,000 in 2018," she said. "Now I have to raise $2 million to help cover what was a staff of 22 and is now a staff of 42." 

Boise Mayor Lauren McClean also spoke out against the commissioners' decision in a news release. McClean said she refuses to let Boise become "another Portland, Seattle or San Francisco." 

She said they're working on ways to keep everyone housed at the Red Lion. 

"I am shocked and deeply dismayed that the Ada County Commissioners have, once again, refused to invest in temporary, emergency shelter for unhoused families with children, leaving the City of Boise solely responsible for addressing countywide issues," she said. 

Duncan said the commissioners have compassion and respect for families experiencing homelessness and that they were happy to provide emergency assistance to the City of Boise. 

While she's grateful for the $697,000, Peterson-Stigers said she wishes the county helped develop a longer-term fix. 

"You have to have a solution to be able to replace that inefficiency," she said. "You can't just push people out onto the street."

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