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Unhoused protest in Boise: Police arrest four, group pens letter to the city

Photo by Claire Keener

Unhoused protestors have been occupying the lawn of the old Ada County Courthouse in downtown Boise since mid-January. On Feb. 7, the protestors collectively wrote a letter to the City of Boise requesting negotiations.

“This is a collectively created email from us, our name is ‘Operation Hope Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,’ and we are your neighbors experiencing houselessness and protesting in tents across the street from the Capitol,” the letter said. “We want to express our experience with having our rights violated and our voices silenced. Your police have stolen our private property, on which we depend to survive. We’re protesting because we have no other option.”

Idaho State Police arrested four people over warrants and probation violations early Friday morning on Feb. 4, the Idaho Statesman reported.

This marks the second time since the start of protests over the lack of affordable housing in Boise that Idaho State Police have arrested a demonstrator and confiscated items such as heaters, blankets and other personal belongings.

The first person was arrested on Jan. 24 for allegedly obstructing an officer from opening a tent during one of their encounters, the Idaho Statesman reported.

According to the Idaho State Police press release, “The purpose of the visit was to check for any prohibited items and to check on the welfare of those on-site.” The press release also stated that police seized drug paraphernalia and alcohol.  

This time around police seized propane tanks, pillows, sleeping bags and issued eight warnings, citing state code that prohibits camping on state property. Since January, Idaho Legal Aid has argued that police are in violation of protesters’ First Amendment right to engage in protest and their Eighth Amendment right to sleep on public property when no shelter is available.

Following the 2018 court case Martin v. Boise, the City of Boise reached a settlement that “people experiencing homelessness will not be cited or arrested for sleeping outdoors when no shelter is available, and the city will continue to take steps to put every person experiencing homelessness in Boise on a path to permanent housing.”

Unhoused protest, Boise Jan. 2022
[Photo of the protestors’ tents and signage on the Old Ada County Courthouse lawn.]
Photo by Brydon Black | The Arbiter

“When they say there are not enough low-barrier shelter beds, they’re telling the truth,” Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers told the Statesman.

The Idaho Legal Aid news release mentioned how the Interfaith Sanctuary shelter reached its maximum capacity for the first time on Jan. 14. The Idaho Statesman reported that since then, Interfaith has set up a heated tent in the parking lot for overflow guests. 

On Jan. 23, 11 people on Interfaith’s waiting list were sent to the Boise Rescue Mission shelter. Five people who did not qualify for the Rescue Mission slept in the Interfaith tent. 

“The protesters are homeless individuals who do not have access to available shelter and have been sleeping in vehicles,” the Idaho Legal Aid release stated.

For weeks now, demonstrators have set up tents outside the former Ada County Courthouse in Boise trying to push state and municipal leaders to take action on the current housing crisis.

A housing analysis from August 2021 presented during a Boise City council meeting estimated that 27,000 housing units would be needed in the next decade in order to manage the current housing crisis. 

According to KTVB, an average one-bedroom rental in Boise costs around $1,500 per month. However, the average Boise renter can only afford to pay around $800 a month.

Members of the Boise community gathered for a potluck to show support for Boiseans experiencing homelessness as part of their continued demonstration against the lack of affordable housing. The potluck took place directly east of the Capitol around noon on Jan. 29.

On Saturday, Feb. 6, Boise Mayor Lauren McClean released a plan to partner with developers in building 1,250 apartments for Boiseans making 60% or less of the area median income. Depending on income and the size of the household, the housing prices range from $792 to $1,205 per month.

One of the demonstrators is ScherryJo Crandall, who was evicted last November and has been living in her car ever since.

Early on the morning of Jan. 29, a drunk driver crashed into Crandall’s car, shattering her back windows and leaving her exposed to the freezing temperatures outside.

Crandall can’t stay at any local shelters because she has three cats, and shelters require pets to be service animals. Additionally, one of these went missing after the car accident.

Crandal's vehicle, unhoused protest, Boise, Jan. 2022
[Photo of unhoused demonstrate ScherryJo Crandall’s damaged vehicle and belongings.]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

“We are human too,” Crandall said. “We deserve housing. We are not pieces of trash.” 

Crandall is hopeful that her brothers will be able to help her buy a new car as she waits to hear back about housing applications submissions. 

The groups in attendance included the Idaho Labor Party Organizing Committee, Boise Mutual Aid Collective, the Boise Homeless Coalition, Interfaith Sanctuary, various clergymen, the Red Republicans, high school students and various unaffiliated members of the community. At its peak, the crowd amassed around 200 people.

The Boise Homeless Coalition is an advocacy group founded in 1993 with the goal to end homelessness through public education, policy advocacy and coordinated services.

“There’s no room in one. Families can’t be together in another. People can’t have their pets. A single father and his daughter couldn’t be together,” said Barbra Kemp, a volunteer with the Boise Homeless Coalition. “These folks are out here trying to get solutions in a peaceful, legal manner. And so we support them. We want more options and immediate solutions, too.”

Part of what led to the mobilization and organization of the potluck was growing concerns from community members stemming from Facebook posts by the conservative group Idaho Liberty Dogs.

As reported in the Idaho Statesman, the moderator of the Idaho Liberty Dog’s account urged a peaceful counter-protest, while some commenters had other ideas:

  •  “Organize 200. 300 folks with ARs to clean up.”
  • “I heard baseball bats clean things up real nice at like 2:00am”
  • “Take the garbage and transport it to the lawns of McLenin and Sanchez. They’re taking in people that shouldn’t be in Idaho and filling the city with them.”

In a response, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean urged for peaceful organization.

“It has come to my attention that tomorrow there is a planned counter-protest to the ongoing protest on state property,” McLean wrote in a statement. “I value people’s rights to have their voices heard, but only if it is done in a peaceful way … There is no place for violence here.”

Two Boise police officers were present at the event, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Around 70 counter-protestors met at Cecil Andrus park at 1 p.m. before crossing North 6th Street to verbally confront demonstrators and housing advocates. Multiple members of the crowd had signs opposing “tent cities” and a consistent theme among signs was “not letting Boise turn into Portland” or other major cities. 

“I was disappointed today in our turnout of patriots,” said a counter-protester who wished to remain anonymous.

Despite the arrests, demonstrators remain outside the former Ada County Courthouse.

[Photos from the Community Potluck event organized in solidarity with the unhoused protest on Jan. 29]

Gallery photos by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

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