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  • Writer's pictureAction Idaho

Mayor Lauren McLean Abets Homeless Empire: Part 3

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean has abetted the spread of homelessness in three distinct and profound ways. Her re-election will mean a further festering of the homeless problem.

Part One of the series served as an introduction to the issues of homelessness. Part Two described the problems of the "housing first" mindset combined with Boise's loss in Martin v. Boise lawsuit. Today's installment concerns the first two ways that Boise Mayor Lauren McLean has shown her support for the homelessness empire.

In the aftermath of Martin v. Boise, speculation swirled that Boise told the Supreme Court that it would not defend its own laws now that Mayor McLean, a housing first advocate, was elected. That idea does not fit the timeline and it would be very unusual. It probably did not happen that way. Mayor McLean’s subsequent actions as mayor make such a theory seem much more plausible.

The first subsequent action concerned the "remedy" phase of the Martin v. Boise litigation, where the sides determine what each will now do now that the legal issues are settled.

The city of Boise under Mayor McLean took a dive at the remedy phase of the Martin v. Boise litigation. At that stage, Boise agreed, as per the Latham and Watkins' (LW) press release gloated, to spend $1.3 million for additional shelter spaces.

But that is not the worst of it. LW had been doing its work pro bono (without pay), but Boise agreed to pay them for their work. Losing parties must pay legal fees to the winning parties only when cases are so frivolous as to be laughed out of court. The case was obviously not laughed out of court. The case yielded a closely-divided Ninth Circuit. Many joined each side with amicus briefs. It was almost heard at the Supreme Court. Despite all of this, Mayor McLean’s attorneys negotiated an agreement to pay LM $435,000 for attorneys’ fees. This revealed how ashamed Mayor McLean’s administration was at having to defend Boise’s very reasonable laws against homelessness.

Mayor McLean is not revolutionizing Boise’s homeless because the Ninth Circuit is making her. She is revolutionizing it because this is her vision for a better Boise.

That became obvious almost immediately. As Mayor McLean took office, she appointed a committee to imagine a “More Equitable City for Everyone.” Their report created a firestorm for its emphasis on the sexualization of children and other diversity and equity initiatives. Overshadowed was its embrace of both pathologies in homeless policy: Boise under Mayor McLean would build a homeless infrastructure and then allow the homeless to wander the city free from police supervision. First, it would expand the shelter system to “provide immediate housing and access to basic necessities” for the homeless. Second, it would make it much more difficult to arrest and hold the homeless for vagrancy by eliminating “cash bail and ‘fines’ for the indigent.”

Mayor McLean’s plans for “serving the homeless” in Boise through ceasing law enforcement against vagrancy and building out the homeless infrastructure are proceeding apace. Boise has had no adult arrests for vagrancy during McLean’s mayoralty. Quite the opposite. There is a terrific expansion in the homeless population.

The most obvious sign of the political establishment's commitment to expanding “housing first” in Boise came from the extended toleration of the homeless encampment near downtown Boise during early 2022. The encampment has since been called a “protest” by those advocating for the homeless. Whatever it was, tents, tarps, propane tanks, and urine and feces arrived near Idaho’s Capitol building during the recent legislative session. City officials and state officials tolerated the encampment for months, until public pressure demanded an end to the encampment. Gov. Brad Little had state troopers take down the encampment in March.

But not before the sides were clearly drawn. In January, a group called Idaho Liberty Dogs descended, fully armed, on the encampment with megaphones. The campers responded with dancing and chanting, “housing is a human right.”

Mayor McLean was in a pickle. On one hand, worries about Boise becoming another San Francisco, Portland or Seattle might hurt her politically, especially with refugees from those cities pouring into the Treasure Valley. On the other hand, she agreed with the protestors. Housing is a human right, in her view, and the city has an obligation to provide it and enforcing vagrancy laws was, in her view, unjust discrimination.

This situation was easily exploitable as it provided an opportunity to pursue her vision of expanding homeless shelters in Boise and in the area generally.

The encampment was useful, that is, in persuading or coercing Boise’s politicians to expand the city’s shelter capacity. The City of Boise can do many things to build out the homeless infrastructure aside from building city-sponsored “housing first” for the homeless. The $1.3 million it agreed to spend in the remedy phase of the Martin litigation does not go very far in today’s real estate market. Instead, Mayor McLean and her allies on the city council have emphasized private-public partnerships to build more homeless shelters. Thus the controversy over relocating and expanding the Interfaith Sanctuary.

Our next installment concerns precisely that controversy, where Mayor McLean showed what she would be doing if she won a second term in office. She is offering the city of Boise a homeless empire, good and hard.

For earlier installments see:

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

Homelessness Policy and the Threat to the Treasure Valley: Part 2

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