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Critic of Boise Mayor Skeptical about Public Forum on Homelessness

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide if it will take up a case involving Boise's rules for ticketing people who are homeless. (Srdjan/Adobe Stock)
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide if it will take up a case involving Boise's rules for ticketing people who are homeless. (Srdjan/Adobe Stock)
November 22, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Boise Mayor Dave Bieter holds a community forum on homelessness today, but an attorney with a history of challenging the mayor on this issue is skeptical about what it will accomplish.

Bieter says addressing homelessness is central to his campaign. But a decade ago, Idaho Legal Aid Services attorney and Associate Director Howard Belodoff took the mayor and City of Boise to court for giving people citations and fines for sleeping on the streets.

He's concerned Bieter could oversimplify the issue at the forum and thinks the city has failed to address its root causes.

"There's no one reason why somebody's homeless,” says Belodoff. “It's multi-faceted, and it requires a multi-faceted approach to address the lack of housing."

Today's forum at Trailhead Boise at noon includes remarks from the president of the Downtown Boise Neighborhood Association, police and firefighters. Bieter also has invited his challenger in the December 3 mayoral runoff, Lauren McLean.

In September, Bieter announced a plan to invest $6,000 in each of 166 Boise families experiencing homelessness.

Boise eventually tweaked its rules on fining people sleeping outdoors, but the city still would cite them if there was a bed available at a local shelter. As Belodoff and others have noted, shelters aren't always a good fit and some even have religious requirements.

A federal appeals court sided with Belodoff and his plaintiffs, but the city has appealed that decision. Now, cities across the West with similar rules are waiting to see if the Supreme Court takes up the case next month.

In Belodoff's view, Boise's ordinance criminalized homelessness.

"It was written to be punitive,” says Belodoff. “It was written to deter people, but there's really no deterrence effect to somebody who has no choice. So, I don't understand the thinking, and I know it's not a solution."

Bieter says the ordinance was necessary to prevent homeless camps, and that those camps can be dangerous for the people who live in them.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID