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After Cooper Court, Boise eyes housing first

Posted at 4:03 PM, Feb 05, 2016

Even though Cooper Court has been vacated of the homeless, it doesn’t mean those people are gone.

Following a controversial sweep by the Boise Police Department and the City of Boise, many have asked, “What can we do to get people off the streets?”

The term “housing first” is often thrown around but few have an idea of what that actually means or what practices are associated with reducing the amount of people sleeping in the streets.

Although it’s nearly 450 miles away, Eugene, Oregon is similarly-sized to Boise and has a more pressing homelessness problem due to the I-5 corridor and mild weather.

Roughly 1,500 people are on the streets of Eugene with at least 500 of those individuals addicted to drugs or mentally ill, which keeps them away from shelters.

A housing first approach for Eugene means permanent housing is available to the needy immediately which takes care of basic safety.  The thought process is if someone has a stable, warm and safe place to stay, then obtaining sobriety or even getting a job will be easier.

Sarah Raymondo was a homeless drug addict for two years living under a bridge.

After she became pregnant, she knew changes had to occur and was able to get into a housing first program.

"I'm 31, never had a job and always struggled with addiction and mental health anxiety and depression and stuff like that,” Raymondo explained.  “I now actively work with a counselor through Shelter Care and work with an employment specialist I got my job through."

Critics often argue giving a home to an addict is counterproductive, but Shelter Care Director Don Gulbrandesen says societal and monetary costs add up for someone on the streets,

"It's a huge cost burden. $30,000 to $50,000 a year per chronic homeless in society," Gulbrandesen said.

City of Boise Spokesman Mike Journee says Boise already has a distinct advantage compared to Eugene.

300 low income units are currently available with plans to make more.

"We are the only municipality in the country that owns its own affordable housing stock like that."

Despite the costs associated with homelessness, the most obvious return is a functional member of society.

“My life has made a complete 180.  It’s totally turned around,” Raymondo explained.

The state of homelessness in Boise is continually changing and although the future is unclear, stick with 6 On Your Side for the latest.