Wood River Valley leaders looking for solutions to deal with homeless surge

At the meeting, The Hunger Coalition reported that since January nearly 600 new families have utilized its food pantry.
The City of Ketchum and a local non-profit are concerned about the surge of people coming into the Wood River Valley who might be facing homelessness this Winte
Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 11:25 AM MDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2022 at 6:07 PM MDT
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KETCHUM, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — The City of Ketchum and a local non-profit are concerned about the surge of people coming into the Wood River Valley who might be facing homelessness this Winter, as they are currently exploring solutions to to address the issue.

During a recent Ketchum City Council meeting, members were alarmed to hear that an estimated 20 to 40 new families are living outside and an additional 100 new families are dealing with housing insecurity.

“So that is like living in closets. Living in sheds,” said Ketchum Housing Strategist Carissa Connelly. “So, there is a real risk of these families freezing to death, risk of suicide, and that’s the thing that scares all of us.”

Last winter an estimated 250 people were experiencing homelessness, and this new surge would be on top of that. At the meeting, the Hunger Coalition reported that since January nearly 600 new families have utilized its food pantry, which is 47% of the total number of families they serve. Of the new families 322 are from Peru.

“They have been recruited here to our community under false pretenses,” said Naomi Spence Co-Executive Dir. of the Hunger Coalition. “They have come because they have been told there is an abundance of work and fantastic schools for their kids. But they have not been told of the housing shortage.”

Additionally, she said they have been recruited by employers and by family members in the Wood River Valley who need help paying their bills, partly due to the rising housing costs in the area.

“I have seen these folks show up and within a day someone brings them to us and they already have their work uniform on… and so it’s like we first meet them they are sort of on this adrenaline high and then within days or weeks they come back to us and there is a substantial shift in their mental health,” Spence said.

Connelly said about 60 housing will be needed to address the issue. During the meeting, some potential solutions city leaders and staff came up with were locking up hotel/motel rooms throughout the Winter, constructing temporary housing on city-owned land, and utilizing vacant homes or apartments.

At the meeting, it was discussed that a single hotel/motel room could cost $16,000 for the entire Winter. The amount will include a deposit and tenant payment. In the city council packet for emergency housing, it was mentioned one motel owner who allows long-term bookings has five rooms available starting at the end of October. The commitment would run about $10,300 per month or $61,800 from November to April, including tenant payments estimated at $800 per month. In addition, there are two to three-park model homes available to lease. it would mean a commitment of up to $3,000 per month or $18,000 from November to April.

The council also explored a park model concept located at the Lewis Street recycling center. The city staff said the park model concept would require acquiring “tiny homes”, which could be RVs, and could range from $50,000 used to about $130,000 new, including delivery and hookup. This form of transitional housing is an investment that could be used and relocated, or sold if the need no longer exists.

Wood River Valley leaders looking for solutions to deal with homeless surge
Wood River Valley leaders looking for solutions to deal with homeless surge(City of Ketchum)

However, investing in an emergency shelter was not an option.

“For an emergency shelter you need the staff capacity for 24/7 care...and we haven’t been able to identify a building that woodlot needs intensive rehab to be suitable for a shelter,” Connelly said.

She added the city approved $250,000 to get the ball rolling, but the solution is going to require a Wood River Valley community partnership, and somewhere between $1.5 to $4 million in funding.

“So we are putting together an application together for ARPA funds...from the county, as well as, the SPUR Community Foundation, “ said Connelly. “We are keeping an eye out for other grants as they come up. We know that the state and federal level grant cycle for emergency housing has passed, so that is not going to be available for us in time for Winter.”

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Due to the heightened need for temporary housing, the City of Bellevue is proposing the temporary occupancy of RVs when they are parked on private property.

Some of the suggestions from the city staff to the council are: no city services shall be used for temporary occupancy, and occupants shall provide a weekly sanitation report, have written permission for using private property, including driveways, occupancy should be no longer than 60 days, and they must comply with all city codes.

The Bellevue City Council is discussed the item at its last meeting, and has taken no action on it at this time.