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.
- S. Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness, “Expanding the Toolbox: The Whole of-Government Response to Homelessness,” October 2020
- Michele Steeb’s new book release, “Answers Behind the RED DOOR: Battling the Homeless Epidemic“
- Manhattan Institute’s, “Housing First and Homelessness: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” by Stephen Eide, April 21, 2020.
- Liberal Michael Shellenberger’s new book, “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” October 12, 2021.
- Barr Unveils Bill to Fix Failed Housing First Policy, Press Release, https://barr.house.gov/press-releases?id=330AC288-D055-4239-8C6B-50D4E28263EC, November 18, 2021.
- Andrew Barr’s YouTube Video, “Housing Plus Act,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36N3Ga8Tga8, November 18, 2021.
Tags: Boise Planning and Zoning, Brenda Gilchrist, Housing First, Lauren McLean