Interfaith Sanctuary is optimistic about the likelihood of relocating to State Street as its application moves to Boise City Council.
After getting turned down 5-1 at Planning & Zoning on Monday night, Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers told BoiseDev her nonprofit is appealing the denial to Boise City Council and is hoping for a different result. She hopes a new public hearing where her organization can present more information and answer more questions will help the project get the green light it needs to expand.
“The platform of presenting to city council allows us to tell a much better story about what the shelter is and how we are accommodating all of those concerns and we will continue to be open to conditions that could make this better for all,” Peterson-Stigers said. “We have always been on that team of ‘just work with us’. (The denial) is not a terrible thing, it’s just that P&Z punted. They didn’t want to take on the responsibility of doing the right thing so they punted to city council to make the decision.”
This is the latest development in the long-running debate over Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal to relocate to State Street. Now that Interfaith will appeal the decision, it will return to Boise City Council for another series of public hearings and discussions. Land use decisions can also be appealed from Boise City Council up to the Fourth District Court for judicial review.
What about the existing building?
Interfaith Sanctuary sold its building in March of last year prior to the application being approved to Miller Family Holdings LLC, a private equity investment firm based in Portland. It is run by Mark J. Miller, the Board Chairman for Idaho First Bank, and his father Robert Miller, the former CEO of Albertsons Companies.
The emergency shelter continues to operate out of its old warehouse on River Street with a lease from Miller Family Holdings. Peterson-Stigers said there is “some grace” from the building’s new owners while Interfaith Sanctuary goes through the process to try and relocate to State Street, but she said if the nonprofit is forced to start over again the building’s owners will not continue renting to the shelter.
“Based on this process we are being put through they are supportive of our efforts and our shelter, so as long as this application continues to move forward for this building they will stand by us and allow us to stay in the building (on River Street),” Peterson-Stigers said.
“If we have to start this over and sell the Salvation Army building and start a whole new application, that’s not reasonable for them because that’s too long. But, if we get stuck in the muck and now we’re moving to city council and there might be some steps after that they will stay the course for us for this building and this application only.”
Does Interfaith have a security plan?
Many of the questions commissioners had leading to Monday’s denial centered on security for the neighborhood.
Peterson-Stigers told BoiseDev the shelter was never asked by city staff to produce a security plan to go with their application while they were putting it together. Then, once the proceeding started over the course of multiple meetings, they could not bring forth new information because it would trigger a new public hearing process and drag the procedure out even further.
She said Interfaith Sanctuary works with two different security companies to develop its security on-site and with staff training on de-escalation, but the majority of the concerns are with how people who are not staying on Interfaith Sanctuary’s property will impact the neighborhood. Peterson-Stigers said the community is wondering if there will be transportation for guests who can’t stay due to behavioral issues or other problems stemming from guests coming to the area who are not under Interfaith’s supervision.
Rendering of the proposed Interfaith Sanctuary building along State St. in Boise, ID. Via Erstad Architects
She said the plan for these issues, which would potentially occur off of Interfaith Sanctuary’s private property, must be coordinated with the Boise Police Department after the project is approved and the city has set its conditions. This left the nonprofit stuck in a Catch-22 where Peterson-Stigers said they couldn’t create a plan with BPD until the project was approved, but commissioners wouldn’t approve the project without a plan.
“We have security on our staff, but no we will not be patrolling neighborhoods,” she said. “We will not be doing outside police work because we don’t have the right to do that. That is the Boise Police Department. If something is happening outside of our building, off of our site, you can’t hire someone to do private law enforcement.”
Peterson-Stigers: ‘It’s not a community center’
Peterson-Stigers said her group will work with BPD to create a mitigation plan, but the shelter design itself will result in different behavior than what is currently happening on River Street.
The new shelter will feature more space with privacy for long-term guests and they plan to create de-escalation rooms for people who “need a minute” to cool down in the midst of a crisis. Right now, Peterson-Stigers said there is not any room in the River Street shelter for guests to be off by themselves to calm down after a mental health episode or a conflict.
She also noted that Interfaith Sanctuary’s new building will be a shelter that houses people 24/7, but it will not be open to anyone who does not use their services. Anyone in the homeless community who does not wish to stay at Interfaith Sanctuary and follow their rules will not be permitted to eat meals there or spend time at the day shelter, leaving the unsheltered little incentive to leave downtown Boise and the proximity of Corpus Christi day shelter near Cooper Court, she said.
“It’s not a community center, it’s a building that houses people day and night as needed,” Peterson-Stigers said. “While they’re there, they are able to have their social services, our meals and all of that, but it’s more controlled. (The shelter’s operation) has to be based on what we are able to do with the resources we have. We are not a day shelter for the unhoused population.”