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  • Writer's pictureAction Idaho

Stopping McLean's Homeless Empire Means Reversing Course: Part 5

Only a return to sensible policies can stop the homeless problem from growing in Boise, the Treasure Valley, and Idaho as a whole.

Boise and the Treasure Valley at large have a homelessness problem--manufactured by local politicians for their own benefit. Let us review what we have learned in this series.

Homelessness is taking public property for private use. Homelessness also has many bad secondary effects like crime, neighborhood blight, and unpleasant confrontations (as shown in Part One). Boise's unwillingness to fight homelessness is primarily ideological, reflected in a commitment to a "housing first" ideology (Part Two). This means less law enforcement and more and more aid for "housing first" shelters. If we build shelters, the homeless will come.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is a true believer in "housing first" ideology (as Part Three shows). McLean has shown her commitment to "housing first" as she took a dive on the remedy phase of the Martin v. Boise litigation. She has shown it in her support for the lax law enforcement and ambitious shelter building in her "More Equitable City for Everyone" report. She has shown support for overruling Boise's Planning and Zoning Committee which had raised serious questions about a new 205-bed shelter for the Interfaith Sanctuary on State Street in Boise.

A mysterious conglomeration of interests also supports "housing first" ideology. Tens of millions of dollars from the national government flow into the Valley and even more flow into the state for building "transitional housing" in addition to shelters (as shown in Part Four). Some local money exists to match. Those who build housing cannot but look at those pots of gold and see possibilities for profits. Private-public partnerships, seemingly well meaning, bring guaranteed profits to builders while guaranteeing jobs for bureaucrats and social workers. If we build it (and builders want to), they will come.

Much deeper investigative journalism is needed in this area. Part of that investigative journalism has been done through the Boise Dev website, which has catalogued how a network of LLCs, all linked to one developer, has given big money to Ada County Republicans. Such work is just a small first step. More work is needed on how Workforce Housing and other national programs bring extraordinary profits at the expense of the public good and how developers create close relationships with city councils to accomplish their goals. One thing is for certain: our catatonic press like the Idaho Statesman will NOT investigate this topic honestly.

Boise has a homelessness problem. Boise's problem is not in the actual number of homeless. It is in the desire to pursue a "housing first" policies. If we build it, they will come. If Boise causes this problem then the Treasure Valley has a problem. And if the Treasure Valley has a problem, then Idaho as a whole has a problem.

A serious homelessness policy begins with rejecting "housing first" and adopting a scaled approach suited to Idaho. A return to the Boise Rescue Mission approach is needful. "Housing first" will enrich consultants, developers, and bureaucrats while making the homeless problem worse.

First, no serious policy can proceed within the confines of Martin v. Boise. Small changes in the law should me made at the local level to make the case reviewable. Boise should detain homeless and seek to have Martin overturned in the Ninth Circuit and, if not there, at the Supreme Court. The compositions of both courts have changed since the ruling. Martin was closely divided in the Ninth. It almost received plenary review at the Supreme Court. Further developments have increased the tension within the national system as judicial districts in the country tolerate different policies.

If Boise itself will not change its laws or enforce them, then the state of Idaho should preempt Boise's law and enforce the laws of Idaho. Preemption is a doctrine that overrides local laws when they conflict with state laws and allows for state enforcement. If Mayor McLean will not enforce Boise's laws, perhaps Attorney General Raul Labrador (when elected) or Governor Brad Little would care to enforce state laws against homelessness at the state level.

Seattle, San Francisco and Portland are dumpster fires of homeless vagrants because they accept and desire the outcome of Martin v. Boise. Boise and Idaho should not accept that result. That means re-litigating this case is of paramount importance. If necessary, it would mean enforcing our civilized laws even if they are not supported by the Ninth Circuit. No decent set of policies can exist within the confines of Martin.

Second, the city of Boise should invest money in drug rehabilitation centers and mental health facilities instead of expanding its homeless shelter complex. Idaho itself should expand its mental health facilities in Orofino or Blackfoot, since the influx of people means expanded needs for those with mental health problems. The homeless need other kinds of help than the city of Boise is readying for them.

Third, we need to stop making the problems worse through laxity on drug questions. Idaho could be much worse on drug issues, but it is becoming worse. Idaho has, as Action Idaho has documented, been expanding needle-exchange programs in the state through private-public partnerships. This should stop. Our laws tolerating needle-exchanges should be repealed. Any movement to legalize marijuana would not only add to the violence in the state, but also contribute to our homeless population. We should keep legalizing drugs off the table.

Fourth, assistance to much more humble and scaled missions should be the priority. Temporary assistance with an emphasis on moral healing is the key to homeless shelters. The "housing first" policy treats the body, but ignores the real spiritual problems at the root of homelessness. A mission-oriented approach--keeping it small and personal--is much more likely to yield results. It is little wonder that corporations help the Interfaith Sanctuary, while churches had a history of helping the Boise Rescue Mission. Precisely that scale and that emphasis will lead to humane outcomes for the genuinely out of luck.

Mayor McLean’s behavior since the Martin decision reveals her commitments. She took a dive on the lawyer’s fees, she promoted housing first in her transition plan, she tolerated the homeless encampment in early 2022, and she has helped overturn the Planning and Zoning decision to turn down the expansion of the Interfaith Sanctuary. Her statement after the approval shows her to be a true believer and a San Francisco liberal on homelessness policy. Boise and the Treasure Valley do not (yet!) have as many shelters as those areas though it is her intention to build them. Once our authorities build lots of homeless options, the homeless will come in droves.

Mayor McLean is who she says she is. If Boise voters for her again, the city, the Valley and the state will get rampant homelessness, good and hard. The solution is in our hands.

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

Mayor Lauren McLean Abets Homeless Empire: Part 3

Mayor McLean Finds Allies to Build a Homeless Empire: Part 4

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