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Low-barrier shelter planned in Lewiston keeps progressing

By Elaine Williams, of the Tribune    Feb 6, 2024 Updated 8 hrs ago

Showers may be an amenity at a low-barrier homeless shelter backers hope will open in September in downtown Lewiston.

The group working to get the facility off the ground is the board of the not-for-profit Adult Resource Center, said Jolene Cliffe, who spoke Monday at the ID/WA Democratic Women’s luncheon at the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel in Lewiston.

“It’s still up in the air and there’s still a lot of planning to be done,” said Cliffe, vice president of the board.

The low-barrier homeless shelter is one of many options that are needed for more than 70 individuals living in tents near Clarkston’s Walmart, as well as other homeless people in the region, she said.

“Clarkston’s problem is Lewiston’s problem,” she said. “What happened is we had a lot of our people migrate over there.”

The low-barrier shelter would be near the Public Health-Idaho North Central District, a place identified after her board unsuccessfully explored possibilities such as using vacant retail space, Cliffe said. But a specific address has yet to be named.

Often, empty stores did not meet Lewiston’s requirements for homeless shelters or the owners of the private properties were receiving rent and had no interest, Cliffe said.

Generally, low-barrier homeless shelters allow people to sleep at the facilities if they don’t pose a threat to themselves or others.

It would be similar to one operated by Cliffe’s group on a temporary basis at the Salvation Army in Lewiston in the winter of 2021-2022.

It would have 20 beds, provide places where homeless people could meet with case managers, and perhaps transitional housing where people might be able to live on a more permanent basis.

The case managers help people identify ways to help get off the streets with services such as housing, education and medical care.

It would also have a hygiene center with showers, something that can be difficult for homeless people to access, Cliffe said.

Two of the only places showers are available in Lewiston are at the Salvation Army, where they are free by appointment, and at a North Lewiston truck stop, where there is a fee, she said.

“Who wants to (try) to go and get a job if they haven’t showered?” Cliffe said. “If I feel grungy and dirty and oily, I don’t want to go and try to impress somebody to give me a job.”

A low-barrier homeless shelter is only part of what’s needed to resolve the homeless issue, she said.

A high-barrier, 92-bed shelter at Spokane-based Union Gospel Mission that is anticipated to be complete in about 1 to 1½ years in Lewiston might help about 30% of the people at Clarkston’s homeless camp, Cliffe said

That facility would require residents to meet a number of requirements such as being drug- and alcohol-free.

The homeless population, she said, is diverse.

Besides tents, individuals live in cars, friends’ couches, garages, outbuildings, hotels or recreational vehicles not intended to be used as permanent homes.

Many are employed, but often their homelessness creates additional challenges for them to avoid being fired for absenteeism, Cliffe said.

They might have car trouble that makes it impossible for them to get to work or children who are vulnerable to getting ill, Cliffe said.

The homeless population also includes people with disabilities and seniors on limited incomes.

All of them have difficulty finding housing, she said.

The average monthly rent for a studio apartment in the Lewiston-Clarkston area is $790, which requires an income of $2,370 per month to afford, Cliffe said.

Community members, she said, need to have a conversation about what the solutions are.

“We can do better, I believe,” Cliffe said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com