Frances Wray used to cruise along the Boise River and in our city's bars, bridges and dark corners, looking for people in dire need of medical care. Today she's helping some of those same people stay out of those dark corners altogether.
In 1996, Wray, a social worker at the Terry Reilly Health Services Boise Clinic, was named a Local Hero for her work with homeless and low-income clients. Back then, she says, Boise was struggling to find a way to support its growing population of AIDS and tuberculosis sufferers on the streets. Today, she says, Boise has more and better options for care than ever before. But we still have plenty of room to make up, in the equally essential realms of housing and shelter. Wray got a brutal first-hand lesson in this when she left the Boise Clinic in 2000, earned her master's degree in social work and took a job at the city-run Community House Shelter.
"I went down there, and when they figured out that I wasn't going to go anywhere, they hired me," she recalls. "I worked there until the City of Boise took Community House away from us."
When Community House closed last September, before the city sold it to River of Life Rescue Mission Ministries, Wray recalls standing out in front of the shelter, crying because she felt she had failed Boise's neediest residents. But her tears didn't last long.
"I packed it up and drove right over to El-Ada [Community Action Partnership], and said, 'Where's my office?'" she says. "Then, I worked as a volunteer until they couldn't stand it anymore and hired me." Today, when she's not helping homeless individuals and families find low-cost housing with El-Ada's help, Wray is busy working on a project she hopes will be able to fill some of the void left by Community House. She's on the board of Sanctuary, Inc., the innovative non-denominational homeless shelter that operated in an empty downtown storefront last winter, but whose supporters hope will find a permanent home by this winter.
Ten years from now, she says she plans to still be working with Boise's homeless population. "I have a special feeling for people in a homeless situation," she says. "I've watched some of them die on the street and it's so sad, but I'm just thrilled and delighted when they can have success in their lives."