POCATELLO — It seems for most people the face of homelessness tends to be the single adult male sleeping in an alleyway or asking for spare change on a street corner.
But according to BJ Stensland, the executive director of the Aid for Friends homeless shelter in Pocatello, homelessness in the Gate City has grown to affect single mothers and especially children.
“Two or three years ago at Christmas, we had 11 children and that was the most we had ever had. Now we see 23 (children) easily on any given night,” Stensland said. “The number of homeless children has doubled (in Pocatello).”
The existing Aid for Friends homeless shelter — which has been located in a 1930s single family South Fourth Avenue home for over 35 years — is the only local emergency shelter that houses women, men and families. Serving a city that has the state’s second-highest rate of homelessness, behind only Boise, Aid for Friends operates well above its 100 percent capacity of 34 residents almost every day.
But to keep providing what Brady Ellis, the vice president of housing support programs at the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, calls a critical service to the Pocatello area, Aid for Friends and Idaho Housing and Finance have launched a significant fundraising campaign for renovations to Aid for Friends’ future home, the old Pocatello City Hall building at 209 E. Lewis St.
In less than six weeks, Aid for Friends needs to raise $500,000 to turn a structure built to serve as Pocatello’s City Hall in 1956, and what was also once a state crime lab, into a homeless shelter with adequate space, living accommodations and accessibility for about 100 homeless people.
“Idaho Housing and Finance initially contributed $500,000, and through local funding, we have raised an additional $700,000 in public monies,” Ellis said about the funding for Aid for Friends’ new home. “That is more than the 100 percent match we were looking for. We anticipate the total cost of the (renovations) will be about $2 million, and with the $1.2 million we have that is what leaves us with the additional $800,000 goal. We have raised about $300,000 (already) and our funding gap is still about $500,000.”
Those interested in contributing money directly to help Aid for Friends renovate its new home can do so at the following link: givegab.com/campaigns/pocatello-shelter.
According to Ellis, statistics showing the increase locally in the number of homeless children are but some of the many reasons Idaho Housing and Finance decided to partner with Aid for Friends.
Homeless children are at a much greater risk of having a learning disability or being hospitalized than their non-homeless peers, Ellis said.
Ellis said Idaho Housing and Finance has worked with Aid for Friends for many years and understands the organization’s pivotal role in the Gate City community.
“We took an assessment of the state and tried to identify areas in critical need of homelessness initiatives. Pocatello is one of those areas,” Ellis said. “In recognizing that, we have worked with Aid for Friends for a good number of years. They have been good partners of ours so we were aware of the current shelter’s state and knew that they needed a new location.”
Ellis said that on top of the $500,000 it’s already provided, Idaho Housing and Finance will provide a 100 percent match on future monetary donations toward the renovation of Aid for Friends’ future home.
“We put that out there as an incentive for local contributions and individual donors to bring support to the project,” Ellis said.
Aid for Friends hopes to open its new homeless shelter in the next 12 months. Stensland says Idaho Housing and Finance intends to assume ownership of the house that serves as the current shelter and put it up for sale. Stensland said that once the house sells, Idaho Housing and Finance will donate the money from that sale to Aid for Friends.
In addition to providing living quarters appropriate for single men, single women and families, the new homeless shelter on East Lewis will offer Aid for Friends opportunities to deliver an array of services to its clients, Stensland and shelter manager Kim Ward told the Idaho State Journal during a tour of the new shelter last week.
Aid for Friends’ new location will have much more space than the current location in terms of living and sleeping quarters for homeless people.
The old City Hall building is roughly twice the size of the current 4,300-square-foot home and is a one-level structure as opposed to the current three-level home. Another change with the new location is that it will be in 100 percent compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, Stensland said.
The new shelter will provide housing for up to 100 homeless people, a big increase compared to the current shelter’s 34-person listed maximum occupancy.
Stensland said the regular practice at the current shelter of putting cots, mattresses and beds in common areas and on floors to enable it to exceed its listed maximum occupancy will not happen at the new shelter.
The new shelter will expand the women’s and family commons area nearly tenfold to 2,500 square feet and will include a career center, dedicated laundry room and a dining room capable of serving all residents.
That dining area will be in a room that was once used for Pocatello City Council meetings. Stensland said the space will also be used to host large meetings and workshops.
“We never had a dining room area at the (current homeless shelter) and that will be a wonderful thing,” Stensland said. “There will also be space for training, different workshops and even (for) food distribution on a weekly basis.”
The women and family sleeping areas will expand from four rooms in the current shelter to 10 rooms, including three dedicated to homeless women, at the new location.
The men’s sleeping quarters will also increase, transitioning from the current dorm room with eight bunk beds to three rooms each with four bunk beds at the new shelter.
The new facility will also offer dorm-style bathrooms, a men’s commons area and storage space for each resident.
Aid for Friends’ current shelter has one bathroom per floor in a three-level home that houses 40 people or more every night.
Ward says that arrangement has become quite stressful.
The new shelter will not only provide adequate bathroom and laundry facilities but will feature an industrial kitchen, recreational and educational opportunities for children, a donation receiving area, pantries containing donated clothes and food, and a workforce development center.
There will even be enough room at the old City Hall building to house Aid for Friends’ administrative offices, which are currently located at 210 E. Center St.
“This is one of the most solid buildings you could find,” Stensland said about the old City Hall. “But we want to make it a good shelter and not piecemeal it out over the next 10 years. We want to do this right the first time around.”
Stensland said those interested in donating can do so online, in person at Aid for Friends’ administrative offices on East Center, or via check or money orders sent to Aid for Friends, P.O. Box 4233, Pocatello, ID 83205.
Those who have already contributed to Aid for Friends’ new home include: Home Partnership Foundation/Avenues for Hope, the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck, Bannock County, Housing Alliance and Community Partnerships, the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation, ON Semiconductor, Citizens Community Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of Commerce, Idaho Central Credit Union, Steve Gallafent, Spaulding Foundation and the United Way of Southeast Idaho.