Transitional Housing in "The Other Kootenai County"
Insufficient affordable housing is one critical factor facing The Other Kootenai County. Elected officials usually use the term "workforce housing", housing for people with jobs (albeit ones paying less than a living wage in Kootenai County). Workforce housing is needed here, but we also have an equally urgent need for a smaller housing subset called transitional housing. Transitional housing is needed for people who do not yet have jobs, and frankly may not be able to get jobs, that will enable them to afford workforce housing. Transitional housing is sometimes called "re-entry housing" when associated with formerly incarcerated prisoners being returned to the community.
My May 23, 2006, Whitecaps post entitled At Least No One Has Died ... Yet discusses two incidents involving Coeur d'Alene's problems with transitional housing.
Then in front page, above-the-fold stories on Friday, May 26, 2006, and Sunday, May 28, 2006, Coeur d'Alene Press staff writers Tom Greene and Lucy Dukes follow up on the operation of three local transitional homes collectively managed under the name the Lord's House.
These incidents emphasize the consequences of a city government's obsession with projecting the appearance of prosperity and wealth (e.g., a trophy library near downtown and expensive street artwork) while callously ignoring the basic needs (e.g., see Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs) of community members living precariously just above or below the poverty line.
So what are communities like Coeur d'Alene to do? Wouldn't it be nice if there was a step-by-step handbook for communities to follow to deal with re-entry and transition challenges like mobilizing the community, affordable housing, employment and workforce development, managing substance abuse, criminal justice, physical and mental health, continuity of care, and children and family issues.
It turns out, there are handbooks. Lots of them. They're published by the Council of State Governments (CSG). CSG is a non-partisan, public, non-profit organization that provides information, research, and training to state officials in all three branches of government in every state and US territory.
For example, in the CSG's Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council - Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community, housing issues are addressed throughout the 648-page report. Likewise, in its 432-page report of the Criminal Justice / Mental Health Consensus Project, CSG covers the development and enhancement of housing resources linked to appropriate levels of mental health supports and services.
Kootenai County and the City of Coeur d'Alene have a long way to go to avoid the damaging effects of gentrification. Both will go further if they seek to work with all members of the community on quality of life issues and not just with the affluent and politically influential on cosmetic issues. It is in the community's best interest to work cooperatively on the transitional and re-entry housing challenges.