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The face of homelessness


Every morning, Cynthia makes an hour-long drive from her three-bedroom home among the hop fields of Wilder to the city lights of Boise. A routine she repeats each evening as she works to provide for her family.

“I am working toward sustainability,” said Cynthia.

Every mile, a step toward stability for her and her family. “My biggest issue is making sure that my grandkids are housed. It’s something that I’m fighting to keep,” she said. “We’re going to fight to stay in this situation.”

In spring 2017, Cynthia – who lived with her husband, daughter, and four grandkids – lost her home. At the time, she was the family’s only source of income after her husband had suffered two strokes. “We would catch up and fall behind, but the last time, we fell behind so bad there was no recovering from it,” she said.

They moved from various shelters, to sleeping on friends’ couches, to sleeping in their car. While the family searched for warm beds and a roof over their heads, Cynthia tried to create consistency with her job. “I tried to keep a routine of waking up and going to work even when I was homeless.”

She’s not alone

It’s confirmed at least 5,500 Idahoans experience homelessness. The latest numbers coming from the 2018 State of Homelessness in Idaho Report. The annual report, put out by Idaho Housing and Finance Association, outlines the hard work done by a number of nonprofit and community-based organizations that work to secure housing and critical supportive services for the most disadvantaged among us. The report represents the most comprehensive picture possible of homelessness in the Gem State.

The State of Homelessness in Idaho Report uses both the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and the Community Management Information System (CMIS) to help measure the number of those experiencing homelessness.

HMIS is an electronic data system that gathers the characteristic and service needs of those experiencing homelessness. The system allows providers to improve their understanding of homelessness and measure progress being made towards ending homelessness.

CMIS is a similar database for domestic violence providers and allows for additional privacy, security, and practices to ensure the safety of its participants.

Current state of homelessness

Accurately measuring the number of people experiencing homelessness is a challenging task because of the ever-changing nature of the population, programs, funding, and housing market. There’s also varied definitions and methods used for counting those experiencing homelessness. The HMIS and CMIS counts are based on those who participate in services and therefore does not include those who aren’t connected to services. Thus, all figures should be considered a minimum.

• Minimum number of people who experienced homelessness: 5, 546

• Multi-person households: 883

• Single-person Households: 2,785

• Persons in multi-person households: 2,761

• Students: 8, 080

• Survivors of domestic violence: 865

• Veterans: 719

• Male: 53%

• Female: 46%

• Under 25: 36%

• Elderly: 6%

• Chronically Homeless: 15%

A number of initiatives are being done across the state to help those experiencing homelessness. The Nampa School District created a drop-in center for vulnerable youth in need of refuge. The center provides food, warmth, security, fellowship, and educational support.

St Vincent de Paul of North Idaho is using locally developed artificial intelligence called SARA to encourage clients to obtain self-sufficiency. SARA sends text messages, issues reminders, surveys, and records client responses.

In November 2018, New Path Community Housing opened its doors in Boise, Idaho becoming the first single-site Housing First project in Idaho. It includes 40 units, along with wrap-around services, for those experiencing chronic homelessness to aid in recovery and achieving stability.

As for Cynthia, she and her family were experiencing homelessness for about a year before they started to work with CATCH to find stability. After five months, they found a home they could afford through the Wilder Housing Authority; a home that represents a fresh start and stability for this family of seven.

Cynthia is optimistic about the future and now looks toward other programs she can utilize through CATCH, such as the financial literacy program.

“My next step is to learn how to financially secure us.”