With Cooper Court Emptied and Temporary Shelter at Fort Boise Closing, a Vigil is Planned Downtown 

click to enlarge A photo from the last day Cooper Court was occupied, before the Boise Police Department evicted the tent city. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • A photo from the last day Cooper Court was occupied, before the Boise Police Department evicted the tent city.

For the first time in many months, not a single person spent the night Dec. 4 in the alley behind Interfaith Sanctuary near 15th Street. The off-ramp for River Street is now open, along with Americana Boulevard and River Street, which were closed off all day yesterday while the homeless encampment there was broken up by Boise police.

Before police came, many residents of Cooper Court scattered, abandoning their tents. Police negotiators worked with those who stayed and city spokesman Mike Journee said everyone left the alley voluntarily. No arrests were made.

"We weren't sure what to expect," Journee said. "We're very relieved. The key focus was to get people out of the unsafe situation. It's been a huge concern for us that, at any moment, something could happen such as a loss of a life or lives."

During the action, Boise police worked to remove each person from his or her tent at Cooper Court, offering them a large duffel bag for their belongings or a $125 voucher to the Salvation Army should they choose to leave their things behind.

In response to the clearance, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho planned a protest/candlelight vigil for tonight, Dec. 5. Supporters and residents of Cooper Court are encouraged to meet at the Grove Plaza downtown at 6:30 p.m. to make signs and receive candles. The vigil starts at 7 p.m.

"While the city is offering a warm shower—guarded by police—at the one-day Fort Boise shelter, they have failed to address the longstanding issue of secure housing for all the city's residents, according to those who formerly lived at Cooper Court," ACLU-Idaho stated in a news release. 

Journee said Mayor Dave Bieter and his staff were especially concerned with the high density of people living in the alley, blocking the fire lane, using open flames to stay warm, using drugs and alcohol, and lacking sanitation. Two portable toilets served as restrooms for as many as 135 people.

Interfaith Sanctuary also felt the stress of the situation, as it was no longer able to accept donation drop-offs because of the street obstruction and had to hire a security guard to keep those inside the shelter safe.

As each resident was told to leave the alley, they were given the option to visit the city's "hospitality tent"—a large, heated tent furnished with tables and chairs and warm coffee, as well as chili, cookies and sandwiches. They were also encouraged to climb aboard a shuttle going to the Fort Boise Community Center, which was turned into a temporary shelter for the evening. 

Waiting for them at the shelter were piles of clean clothes donated by the Idaho Youth Ranch, a hot shower, a meal and a cot, as well as a long table covered with information on resources and area nonprofits to help end homelessness. They were also offered a taxi and local bus voucher, as well as a $50 voucher for groceries.

To Journee's disappointment, only 26 people took up the city's offer. Of them, 15 stayed overnight.

"We would have liked to see more people," Journee said. "We wanted them to take advantage of the resources and see what's available to them. But our No. 1 priority was to get folks out of that situation at Cooper Court. That was a big win for us, that worked out really well. Secondarily, we were trying to convince people to take advantage of the resources available to them in the shelters and through other nonprofits."

Journee said he doesn't know why more people didn't take advantage of the offer. The temporary shelter at Fort Boise closes on Dec. 5 around 6 p.m. Fort Boise will go back to its normal operations on Sunday, Dec. 6.

The next step is to take care of the remains of the tent city. Police are in the process of inventorying 70 tents and makeshift structures that were either tagged as someone's belongings to be collected later on, or abandoned. Then all the possessions will be boxed up and taken to a storage unit. People have 180 days to claim their things.

On Monday, Dec. 7, the rest of the tents, which owners said they no longer wanted, will be disposed of, the streets will be cleaned, fences removed and it will go "back to normal" by the end of the day, according to Journee. 

He said the city will keep a sharp eye out for any other camps that pop up in the wake of Cooper Court and will quickly put a stop to them, as well.

"We're very proud of the low-key, compassionate way that this was accomplished yesterday," Journee said.
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