‘I don’t want to welcome you.’ Neighbors spar with Interfaith over new shelter location

Interfaith Sanctuary
Posted at 8:33 AM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 10:33:06-05

This article was written by Hayley Harding of the Idaho Statesman.

Interfaith Sanctuary is in the process of buying new property on State Street, but residents in the nearby Veterans Park neighborhood still aren’t sold.

The shelter for people who are homeless plans to move from its location at 1620 W. River St. to take over the building of a former Salvation Army thrift store at 4306 W. State St.

The new location is squarely in the Veterans Park neighborhood, a place Executive Director Jodi Peterson told the Statesman last month that her team chose in part because it had “thoughtful neighbors that have shown acceptance.” It is already home to Valor Pointe, a 27-unit apartment building funded in part by the city of Boise that houses veterans and provides them with services.

On Wednesday, though, neighbors were almost exclusively against the project, even though several clarified they supported the shelter’s mission. During a public hearing required by the city as part of the development process, neighbors talked about their fears about the shelter, which would offer 276 beds to individuals and families experiencing homelessness, being built near them.

“This may sound heartless, but I don’t want to welcome you to my neighborhood,” Atanacio Ciluaga told Peterson.

People — more than 280 were online in the meeting at one point — expressed concerns about sex offenders (Peterson responded that people with sexual offenses are not allowed to stay at Interfaith Sanctuary) and drugs and alcohol they worried guests at the shelter may bring into the neighborhood.

Those who weighed in Wednesday also spoke about fears about their children’s safety, what it would mean in the crime rates in the area, and what having a new shelter nearby would do to their property values.

“You are asking our neighbors to take a very substantial risk,” one man said. “Are you willing to compensate them if their property value goes down?”

Peterson responded that while she didn’t have a good answer to that question because she had never built a new shelter, she did consider herself a good manager of a homeless shelter.

Many said during the four-hour meeting that they felt excluded from the decision-making process required to move the shelter from River Street to State Street. In total, the project will cost just shy of $5 million, Peterson told the Statesman. It would represent a major expansion — the shelter had 184 beds before the pandemic but now only about 140 can stay there. The new building would nearly double that.

Much of the money to pay for the expansion will come from donations, but part of it comes from the sale of the River Street location, leading one person to ask why the shelter would sell its old location before getting approval for operation at the new one.

“I went on faith and hope,” Peterson said. “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll own a building that I’ll have to do something else with, but I believe in this project and I believe in the process.”

Several people said they felt like Peterson’s handling of their questions was too based in public relations rather than in actually addressing concerns. At least two people asked for promises of being a good neighbor to be included as part of the conditional use permit required to operate in the space.

Peterson said that she was taking notes on people’s concerns and had already worked with several requests, but she wasn’t sure if those things could be put into permits.

Even before the meeting, the Veterans Park Neighborhood Association was soliciting donations from people “in order to obtain legal representation, hire other professional advisors, and cover associated administrative and communications expenses,” according to a Feb. 7 Facebook post from the neighborhood.

“On behalf of our residents, the VPNA board has committed to oppose the proposed Interfaith Sanctuary expansion and relocation to our neighborhood” once applications were submitted, a letter dated Feb. 3 read.

Several people said during their comments that they planned to donate to the cause.

Summarizing his feelings succinctly, one resident said that Peterson was not welcome in his community.

“Why is she still pushing?” he asked.

“Every community has a responsibility to take care of their own,” Peterson responded, adding that her team was “not asking for any crazy considerations or anything.

“We’re asking to beautify a building and move in a very programmed shelter into a neighborhood,” she continued. “We’re pushing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the first step in submitting a planning application to the city of Boise. The next step is to submit an application, which would begin the process of moving through the city before a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing.

That would likely not be until April, one of the developers on the project said.