Two signs, warning of violations to Boise City Code, appeared Nov. 17 at Cooper Court—the tent city of homeless men and women that has garnered an equal amount of headlines and controversy—and in the early morning hours of Nov. 19, its residents were awoken by police officers handing out official warnings.
"I think they're trying to get us out of here," said Karl "Zipper" Lockhart, who said he had been living in Cooper Court since April. "But why aren't they treating us like everybody else?"
The new signs erected near Cooper Court warn that, "This area is a fire apparatus access road. Obstructing a fire apparatus access road is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in jail." A second sign reads, "This area is a public way. Obstructing a public way is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $300 and/or up to 6 months in jail."
Lockhart said the warning and threat of receiving a ticket from police won't push him out of the encampment. He said he is not welcome at River of Life Sanctuary—"It's against my religion," he said—and if he is pushed from Cooper Court, he, like others in the tent city that has cropped up beside the I-184 Connector, could end up along the banks of the Boise River.
According to Step Up Education Director Lisa Veaudry at nearby Corpus Christi House, Cooper Court has established its own rules and governance, with the people who live there voting on issues important to them. She said that for the homeless people who have pitched camp at the tent city, "it's the best alternative" to shelters like River of Life, whose faith-based policies are a barrier
"There's a community" in Cooper Court, Veaudry said.
When the encampment, in an alley off of Americana Boulevard only steps from Interfaith Sanctuary, first made headlines in early September
, it was because of its rapidly growing size, open substance abuse and other criminal activities. As the tent city continued to grow in the following months, so did the media reports. Both law enforcement and homeless advocates have bristled when asked if the situation at Cooper Court was the "new normal
." According to Lockhart, the criminal activities that made Cooper Court infamous are nothing new in Boise, but now that they're concentrated around an encampment, they've become more visible.
"Don't judge me. Judge yourself," he said.
Earlier this month, Boise Weekly reported on the efforts
of two local nonprofits who envision a collection of "tiny houses" for the dozens of men and women who are currently on Boise streets. A group called the Boise Alternative Shelter Co-op is sponsoring a community event this evening
at the Cathedral of the Rockies, where a representative from Eugene, Ore.-based Opportunity Village will talk about their success with the concept.
City officials aren't huge fans of the village concept
, saying it "basically just becomes another Cooper Court with a roof." Instead, they said they're working on a more sustainable plan, including several caregivers and partners that could offer housing plus much needed health care and employment services.