A one-day count of the homeless last year in Coeur d’Alene turned up 418 people.
The same year, St. Vincent de Paul served 1,707 homeless individuals in Kootenai County.
The Coeur d’Alene School District has identified more than 260 families determined to be homeless.
Whatever the number, the city of Coeur d’Alene recognized that it had a problem with homelessness and decided to do something about it. A committee met monthly for a year, bringing together social service leaders, City Council members, business people, educators, church leaders and others to share information and address the problem.
Tonight, the city will hold the first in a series of town hall meetings to review its official 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.
“We’re a resort community and a gorgeous place to live. I think there were a great number of people that didn’t recognize that we have a homeless population. Or maybe they knew about it but didn’t want to acknowledge it,” said Howard Martinson, director of Fresh Start, a homeless drop-in center in Coeur d’Alene.
Committee members were shocked by some of the numbers, including an estimate revealing that more than $6.5 million is spent annually in the community to address homelessness.
Two goals evolved from the meetings, and progress already has been made on both, said Coeur d’Alene City Council member Mike Kennedy.
One is to follow a national model called Housing First. “It’s sort of a radical approach because it implies that people ought to be housed first, then work with services for the reasons for their homelessness, instead of trying to fix those before they’re in a house,” Kennedy said.
St. Vincent de Paul offers 200 affordable apartments in Kootenai County and just finished renting out 12 houses to formerly homeless people, Executive Director Jeff Conroy said.
But more are needed. The committee is reaching out to landlords who might be willing to rent to the homeless, and though some grants are available to help with rent, Kennedy said finding funding will be a challenge.
“There’s not a dedicated fund of money available today,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a little bit of beg, borrowing and stealing.”
The other goal is well on its way to completion. In early July, St. Vincent de Paul will open what Conroy calls the HELP Center (Helping Empower Local People). St. Vincent will lease a former library at 202 E. Harrison Ave. from the city.
The center will bring under one roof agencies that address various needs of homeless people, including the state departments of labor and commerce and health and welfare, Veterans Affairs, the nonprofit Dirne health clinic, and Project Safe Place. St. Vincent’s social service department also will move there, which will free up enough space in its current location to double the size of its men’s shelter, Conroy said.
Right now, Conroy said, “we’re expecting people with no means of transportation to traverse the county to get the services they need” from various agencies.
At the HELP Center, they’ll find everything they need to look for work, housing, food, clothing and other services, he said. They’ll be met by case workers when they walk through the door. Once their needs are determined, they’ll be directed to the appropriate agency representatives, he said.