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Plans up in the air for ‘safe park’ for the homeless

Idaho Falls

IDAHO FALLS – A proposed “safe park” for homeless individuals is looking to secure a location after plans to begin at a local church came to a halt.

The city of Idaho Falls contacted the organizers of the planned safe park after reading about it in an article posted on EastIdahoNews.com.

RELATED | Local church will soon become a ‘safe space’ for homeless population

The “safe park” would provide an overnight space for the homeless community who live in their vehicles. They would be able to sleep in their cars safely and receive case management and further assistance to get back on their feet.

To ensure that everything was being done legally and most efficiently, Bonnie Champagne, one of the organizers and president of the People in Need Coalition, met with the Idaho Falls Director of Community Development, Brad Cramer.

“I would describe my visit with two goals,” Cramer says. “One is to learn the details of what their idea was, and number two, based on what I learned, to sit and figure out how it did and didn’t fit with the city’s codes and ordinances.”

It is unclear now whether or not the original location for the safe park, the First Christian Church at 1800 12th Street, will be the final location due to it being in a residentially-zoned area.

“That was my message when I went out there, that based on the residential zone, you can’t do what you’re trying to do,” Cramer says. “However, after I met with her, I spent the better part of an hour with our city attorney and planner trying to figure out if that’s really true based on what (organizers are) trying to accomplish there.”

Turns out that there might be a chance for the safe park to continue at the church, but nothing is definitive.

“Instead of saying it can’t happen there, I would say that it might happen there,” Cramer says.

According to Champagne, one of the other main issues with the organization of the project right now is that there is a city ordinance that would not allow them to have a port-a-potty on site for more than three days at a time.

“The church is now exploring how do we provide bathrooms,” Champagne says. “They’re not opposed to people using the church bathroom, but with the way the church is set up, it would need everybody to just kind of roam around the building.”

After receiving negative feedback from the public about the news of a potential safe park, Dawn Turner, the pastor at the First Christian Church, says that there are some misunderstandings as to how it would work.

“It is overnight only, the screening will be extensive and alcohol and drugs will not be allowed on the premises,” Turner says. “As opposed to a “tent city,” we will have a camp host on the grounds. We want this to be more for those who have lost their apartments due to rent increases or life circumstances.”

All potential overnight residents would be required to apply first through CLUB Inc., a nonprofit agency providing housing to homeless individuals and families. Applicants will be screened and if they are approved, they will then be put in contact with the safe park organizers.

The city is continuing to work with Champagne and the First Christian Church to try and make their plan a reality.

“It would be a really interesting and helpful program for those that are trying to get back on their feet,” Cramer says. “The city’s codes and ordinances are not really prepared for it fully, so there’s a conversation there that has to happen.”

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