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  • Writer's pictureAction Idaho

Boise's Approach to Homelessness Threatens the Whole Treasure Valley: Part 1

Boise is going the way of Seattle and Portland on homelessness policy. Only a determined effort to reverse Boise's misguided policy will protect the Treasure Valley's uniquely desirable way of life.

Idahoans were shocked and dismayed at the presence of a homeless encampment right outside the Capitol building during Winter 2022. It was shocking that there were homeless so close to an active legislature. It was dismaying that public officials—both from the state and city—did so little to dismantle the encampment, which persisted for weeks. It is a downright scandal how tolerant and unprincipled our politicians were when they approached the topic of homelessness.

We need a much more sophisticated and knowing reaction to this public plague. Homelessness policy is more a threat than homelessness itself in Idaho, because our policies, as we shall see, can attract more and more homeless to the area and because tolerating the homeless sinks civilizations.

Homelessness is a problem primarily because it is taking public land or public space for private use. No one has the right to simply put up stakes and occupy public space for the necessities of living. No one has the right to simply construct a shelter in a public park and make it their own. That is why homelessness has, until very recently, been treated as a crime everywhere in the United States.

Notice these pictures, taken during June near the Boise River. This man or group of men have built a little hovel right on the Boise River for their own use. They have a stove. They probably urinate and defecate in this area. They have cupboards of sorts, where their food is stored. They collect their garbage in the area, but much of it lays scattered on the floor. They have established a semi-permanent claim on this land. People who would like to step down to the river in this area would feel as if they are intruding on the "privacy" of these homeless men. But this is not their land. It is public land being taken for their own very private and exclusive use.

This issue of justice is not the only problem with homelessness. Most people focus only on the secondary or neighborhood effects of homelessness. Homelessness leads to crime and drug use. Many homeless are confrontational. Many beg for money. The homeless defecate and urinate in plain view of others. A lot of homelessness in an area makes a neighborhood unsightly and unpleasant. It leads to a decline in property values. All true, but the primary problem is that it is taking public land and using it for private purposes.

Our media usually peddles the story that the homeless are just normal people, down on their luck, in a tight real estate market. Perhaps some are, but nowhere near most. Most of the homeless are vagrants, drunks, drug addicts, and the non-institutionalized mentally ill. This is a serious public problem that needs to be dealt with by serious politicians to maintain our quality of life.

The actions of Boise’s Mayor Lauren McLean play no small part in promoting a decadent homelessness in Boise and throughout the Western United States. She plans to accelerate the homelessness epidemic in Boise as part of an effort to change housing in the area. Our state government abets McLean’s efforts through accepting and applying federal monies to supposed-anti-homelessness policies. Private groups throughout the Treasure Valley assist in these efforts as well.

No one in the state has voted for this new homeless policy. Citizens will go to bed thinking that homelessness is a problem for other cities. They will wake up seeing a small Seattle or San Francisco spreading throughout the Treasure Valley and throughout the state. Homelessness is an existential issue for the Valley—and few know what is going on. Action Idaho is writing a series of essays on the homeless crisis to promote public understanding. We will begin with the general policy environment about homelessness. We will also describe what Mayor McLean has done and is doing to promote homelessness in the Valley.

Tomorrow in Part 2 of this series we will discuss two developments in homelessness policy that threaten a city dedicated to order and civilization.

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