Boise police plan to ticket homeless

Posted at 6:16 PM, Nov 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-19 20:16:05-05

Boise police have held off on issuing tickets to people camping in the tent city of Cooper Court, but the hammer is about to drop.

Just this year BPD has received 16-hundred emergency calls - nearly five a day - from the Cooper Court area. There are reports of assault, vandalism and substance abuse in the homeless population. Officers say the situation now is untenable and they're stepping up their intervention.

"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when there will be a tragedy to change that," said Captain Ron Winegar.

Winegar has watched the homeless situation in Downtown Boise go from bad to worse. BPD has fielded hundreds of calls for aggravated battery, sexual assault, and public defecation.

"This is not healthy, and it's not safe,” said Winegar. “It's not good for them this environment and we can't allow them to continue living under those conditions and those circumstances."

A public records request filed by 6 On Your Side found not a single citation has been written for violating the city's camping ordinance since May. Winegar says that's about to change.

"Citations will be issued at some point in the future,” he said. “Likely at some point in the near future. This is so we can get voluntary compliance. This is just not a tenable situation. It's got to change."

By ramping up enforcement, police hope people will get out of the tents and into the shelters. Shelter leaders say there's plenty of room for everyone.

Barring that,  Winegar says police won't stop short of involuntary compliance.

"The conditions are such that we can't let them deteriorate any further. We have to take actions."

Police say the threat to public safety is imminent. It's not just the crime. It's not just the unsanitary conditions.

Open flames are being used to combat the cold.

"We've had one tent already catch fire," said Winegar.

The captain says upcoming enforcement isn't retributive or malicious. It's simply the best option the city has at the moment to promote the public good.

"It feels like we should have been doing more for sure,” he said. “But we are where we are  and everything has combined to lead us to this circumstance. We just recognize we have to do something now and we will. We're going to make it better."

City leaders and area charities are partnering together to work on a housing-first option for homeless. People would be given shelter without many barriers or prerequisites, then given medical, psychological, and professional help. They hope to launch a pilot in the first quarter of next year.

BPD says one of the struggles they have is with well-meaning citizens. A number of people donate clothes, tents, and food directly to the homeless. Unfortunately, that enables non-compliance.

Most of that also turns to trash, compounding poor sanitation. Police ask if you have the heart to donate give directly to the shelters.