Betsy Bowling, Region III Programs Director at CATCH
“We all have one person in our life that reminds us of Santa. For me, that person is Charles. One of the warmest people I knew who brought the warmth of the holiday season year-round.
As one of our “regulars” at the Salvation Army kitchen and shelter in Nampa, Charles and I forged a real bond. Despite being one of the hardest workers I knew, he simply could not afford housing.
During my time at the Salvation Army I believed in the philosophy that if you wanted housing, you would get clean and get a job first. When I started working at a domestic violence shelter, I was confronted with the reality of trauma and began to understand that our Salvation Army clients, who were fighting for survival, were met with another hurdle in return for shelter.
Today, after ten years in the housing sector, I am the Region 3 Programs Director at CATCH. It’s my responsibility to coordinate the housing efforts throughout Canyon County through Access Point and CATCH’s Rapid rehousing program, Taking Root.
In Canyon County, COVID funding has run dry and there is only one Domestic Violence shelter, one emergency shelter with 60 beds, and one family shelter with 56 beds – a grand total of 116 beds. In 2023 in Canyon County alone, we worked with 165 families.
The people experiencing homelessness in our communities are Idahoans who’ve lived here their whole lives and suddenly can’t afford to pay rent and the bottom line is there is no affordable housing and nowhere to send people who come to us asking for support.
It’s not that families want to be on the streets, it’s that they don’t have the resources to get off the streets. And while homelessness is less visible here than Ada County, it’s here, whether you choose to focus on it or not. It’s the people you go to church with, the people you’re saying hi to at the grocery store, the student who sits next to your own child in class.
The support for people experiencing homelessness is often as complex as the reasons for homelessness: shelters are often high-barrier, programs have unattainable entry requirements, and families are often separated. It’s not uncommon for someone to start a program and realize that they are unable to meet the demands due to their lack of safe shelter and support. However well-intentioned programs may be, they often cannot afford to stick around when it becomes difficult.
And this is where organizations like CATCH are unique – offering not just short term support, but real, lasting change for our communities. CATCH understands that there will be times when we are frustrated and our clients are frustrated with us, but we stick around. We see the complexity of humanity because we see complexity in ourselves.
A few years back, I caught up with a colleague who worked with some of my old clients and couldn’t help but ask about Charles.
“He died,” she said.
This man so full of life despite his situation died on a public bench, alone. No one should have to die outside because they can’t get housing, no one is a bad enough person that they deserve to die without the support they need. It had been years since I had worked there and yet his life still impacted me.
As the holidays get closer I can’t help but think about Charles, the person who most resembled Santa in my life. There’s no happy ending, only a plea: homelessness is here. Homelessness is often out of people’s control, it’s complex and messy. But we can end it.
This Op-Ed was published on December 30, 2023 in Idaho Press.