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Op-Ed: Boise Mayor McLean’s “Housing First” Homeless Program is a Failure

By • December 5, 2021

The following Op-Ed was submitted by Brenda Gilchrist. Note: Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those at the Idaho Dispatch.

Along with over a hundred others, I attended the Boise Planning and Zoning Commissioners’ meeting on November 15, 2021 to oppose Interfaith Sanctuary’s application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to convert the old Salvation Army building into a new Housing First, low barrier homeless shelter that gives people access to housing with minimal or limited preconditions, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation. After waiting for several hours, at approximately 9:50pm, Commissioner Gillespie put forth a motion to postpone public testimony and to schedule another meeting on December 6, 2021.

Because I was not given an opportunity to provide public testimony, I am providing it to the public via this op-ed in the hope that the public will: 1) Become informed and aware of failed Housing First low barrier shelters; 2) Become aware of the negative impact that the low barrier Interfaith Sanctuary shelter will have on the surrounding area; and 3) Get more people involved to change the trajectory of Boise’s future and expose the city leaders that approve failed Housing First, low barrier shelters.

What follows is the public testimony I had planned to present to the Boise City Planning and Zoning Commissioners on November 15, 2021:

Madam Chair and Commissioners, thank you for the opportunity to speak today on behalf of the Boise Neighbors for Better Housing. My name is Brenda Gilchrist. I am a subject matter expert on Housing First, low barrier shelters. I am also a recent transplant from Northern California and have experienced and witnessed firsthand the failure of Housing First, low barrier shelters.

Like many others that have flocked to Idaho, I fled California in part due to the impact of failed Housing First, low barrier shelters on my community. My former city became home to the 5th largest homeless population in the US, in less than 5 years, after spending over $150 million to “end homelessness.”

As a subject matter expert on the Housing First, low barrier model, I urge you to vote no on Interfaith Sanctuary’s application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP)21-00026.

Most people aren’t aware that Boise’s Interfaith Sanctuary is a Housing First, low barrier shelter. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing First program does not allow enforcement of rules that require sobriety or any requirement of participation in mental health and addiction services. There is no work requirement or counseling requirement to deal with issues that led residents to homelessness in the first place, usually substance abuse and mental illness.

In October 2020, HUD and the U.S. Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness released a federally commissioned report that concluded that the Housing First, low barrier program was a failure. Federal data in this report, gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that California’s adoption of the low barrier shelter approach in 2016 resulted in a 47% increase in street-level homelessness and a 34% increase in homelessness overall.  In other words, Housing First programs result in increased homelessness, the exact opposite of the program’s intentions. These programs are a spectacular failure!

The October 2020 Inter-Agency Council’s report emphasized that, “Without proper interventions, individuals afflicted with mental illness and/or substance use disorders have a higher likelihood of experiencing homelessness. Furthermore, individuals with mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders often return to homelessness after becoming housed.” The rate at which this occurs is often poorly tracked or not tracked at all. This same report advocates for a data-centered approach stating that, “approaches that emphasize employment, empowerment and increasing self-sufficiency supported by housing,” should be used. A good example of a shelter that uses this approach is the Boise Rescue Mission.

Until we require that accountability be instilled at every level of our homelessness policies, from the elected officials who continue to turn a blind eye to the failure of Housing First policies down to the individuals struggling with addiction and/or mental illness, we cannot expect anything more than the failed status quo.

Mayor McLean has adopted the Housing First model for Boise, Idaho. I fear that Boise will soon look like my former city or worse, like Seattle featured in the documentary, “Seattle is Dying.”

In closing, my message to you as members of the Planning and Zoning Commission is that you have the responsibility, based on data and facts, to reject the Conditional Use Permit for the Housing First, low barrier Interfaith Sanctuary shelter. As has been amply demonstrated in California and other states, a low barrier shelter will not help the majority of supposed homeless clients. Homeless with addiction and mental health issues will likely get worse and cause devastating harm to the businesses and residents surrounding the proposed site. Worse still, currently available data show that this is a wasteful use of valuable resources and is fiscally irresponsible. Please do not let Boise follow in the disastrous footsteps of the many failed cities in California, Washington, Oregon, Texas and others. We absolutely can do better than this.

In addition to my testimony above, I would like to add this additional information for the readers:

Take a little time to look at crime statistics within a one-mile radius of “Housing First, low barrier shelters (a minimum of a 200% increase in crime will occur, based on current crime stats). Why would the city of Boise and its Chief of Police knowingly put businesses and residents in harm’s way by moving current crime from one area to another?

In fact, the failure of the Housing First models has become so bad that a Congressman recently introduced the Housing Plus Act, a program that helps people transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Let’s go one step further. Please write to your Congresspeople and encourage them to pass the Housing Plus Act. Also, write to the Boise Planning and Zoning Commissioners, Boise City Council and Boise Mayor and let them know that Housing First failed in other states and should be replaced with Housing Plus programs that will actually succeed in reducing chronic homelessness.

Idaho can lead the nation on truly addressing the root cause of chronic homelessness. Let’s address the systemic addiction and mental health crisis. Let’s invest in prevention and sustainable models that truly make a difference in lives. Giving a key to an addict and/or mentally ill person is not the answer and will not end homelessness.


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Tags: Boise Planning and Zoning, Brenda Gilchrist, Housing First, Lauren McLean

18 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Boise Mayor McLean’s “Housing First” Homeless Program is a Failure

  1. Thank you. I think you can make your case stronger by giving your credentials as a subject matter expert on the Housing First low barrier model.

  2. That facts are as plain as day. A shelter of this nature in that location would absolutely destroy the surrounding neighborhoods. Fast-paced, heavy traffic on State Street right out the front door poses some dangers in and of itself. Not a good idea at all.

  3. Thank you, courageous Brenda, for illuminating the path forward! It’s very nice to see there are some rational conservative Boise residents left. I must say, if my family had known how abysmally leftist the Treasure Valley has become, we would not have moved here from the failed state of CA. I appreciate knowing about the alternative of adopting Housing Plus (a seemingly more successful and empowering path) instead of the disastrous Housing First, low barrier program. Mayor McLoser needs to move the hell out of Idaho.

    1. Mayor McLoser–carpet bagger from Massachusetts–needs to live right next to her Housing First, low barrier program community. So can her hand-picked, direct-from-that-beacon-of-law-and-order-Portland-Oregon Chief of Police. These two and the city council are such a joke…..

  4. Thank you for this excellent information. I moved from Northern California several years ago. I returned recently to visit family. The homeless situation is horrendous! I was shocked at the camps/garbage/filthy, filthy conditions! The mayor of Bosie needs to go. She will destroy it! Believe me, I watched it for years in California. SAD!

  5. I left Seattle over a year ago. Boise DO NOT bring this here. Seattle brought drug addicts flocking in. Now go read their news: fires, tents, needles everywhere. BLM “we own the streets” a quarter mile from the home I sold. F that. How the hell did you all elect this dip$hit?

  6. In five years, our virtually crime free community in CA became an unsafe place to go out at night and crime skyrocketed once homeless encampments took root. For Boise to follow in those same footsteps is deeply disturbing. Don’t let it happen here.

  7. Thanks for shedding light on the many problems of Housing First low barrier shelters, particularly the InterFaith Sanctuary (IFS). A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit IFS. While I didn’t go inside because it was closed, I did visit the grounds, the day shelter next door and an entire community of people living and hanging out just outside the IFS grounds. This community was filled with people sitting in chairs, many staring into space, some obviously high, some talking with each other. Trash was scattered about. Several cars were parked and appeared to have people living in them. Two young bucks strutted back and forth through the community. One was shirtless and drinking from a bottle of vodka. I talked to one older man who was beaten badly in the face. He said that the two young bucks beat him up again and stole his monthly social security money. Another couple mentioned that many people had been in prison. It was clear to me that this community outside of IFS was not safe for anyone: not the people there or the surrounding community. Moving IFS to State Street isn’t the right answer for a variety of reasons. As the author stated, there has to be a better way.

  8. I actually volunteered at a small shelter that used to be just off of State St. back in 2003. It closed that year. There are several subsets of homeless. There are those who really want to get off the streets and those that function well enough to make the effort. There are those that have become so part of the streets that they might not ever succeed at trying to get help. The drug and mental cases are the hardest. The ones that want to be re-homed usually suffered from catastrophic medical or economic events. I saw all of these types while working with them. I agree that the government cannot solve this problem because their agenda seems to be sustaining their narrative as social savior. They shun independence and reward dependence. Problem-Reaction-Solution is their game…..aka Communism.

  9. The untold story is that Interfaith Sanctuary sold their homeless shelter downtown last year for >$1.3M to a development company from Portland Oregon which specializes in upscale urban apartments. So now they want to relocate to the Veterans Park Neighborhood on State Street near Willow Lane. Which is ~3 miles from downtown. This is not about “adding beds” its about relocating the homeless out of downtown Boise for “urban renewal”.

  10. Its all in how we vote, and its all in how we share information to those with like minds. Brenda, you are so correct and you provide wonderful alternatives to help out those in need. We need to remember that hand outs only create more who want entitlement without responsibility. Bend OR became a homeless crime ridden mess. Portland OR speaks for itself. Looking at Salem OR, the problem is way out of control. The “free” stuff is not free, it is paid for by taxpayer money out of the “feel sorry for them” votes. In Bend, the Churches had sanctuaries, but you could only stay if you were drug free. They made it illegal, brought in the new Sanctuaries, and there is now a severe drug and crime problem plaguing Bend. This along with legalizing pot has made Oregon uninhabitable for those with strong family values.

  11. DAMN! Well done. As a soon to be “CA Refugee” (I know… I’m sorry), I worry every day that the wrong people from CA are making their way into ID and will destroy it just as we’ve watched in our own state. To come onto this site and read this op-ed from another NorCal refugee trying to sound the alarms to STOP Boise from becoming the next CA urban sh**-hole is amazing to see. I hope every refugee has this attitude, and for God’s sake I hope the people of Idaho are listening. If there’s ANYTHING you can learn from the CA refugees, it’s what NOT to allow in your own state. Programs like Housing First and activist groups like Reclaim Idaho are working to spread the cancer into one of the few truly amazing places left in this country. Don’t let it happen.

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