Jamie Sherman couldn’t be happier for the 6 a.m. shifts where he earns $9 an hour to cook and wash dishes at IHOP.
Sherman, a 34-year-old felon and recovering methamphetamine addict, is trying to piece together a new life while he lives at the River of Life Boise Rescue Mission, a men’s shelter in Downtown Boise. He is thankful for the 30 to 40 hours he works each week.
“They are good to me here,” he said. “I’ll work whatever hours they’ll give me.”
Sherman’s life was falling apart when he was arrested in April for meth possession and sentenced to serve two months in the Ada County Jail. His wife had cleaned up her own substance abuse, then left with their 4-year-old daughter when Sherman failed to clean up his. He had not held a job in years.
An Ada County Drug Court judge ordered Sherman to live either at a halfway house or a shelter. He couldn’t afford a halfway house. He checked into the mission last October and was admitted into the open dorms on the ground floor with dozens of other homeless men.
“I started down on the bottom floor with pretty much no clothes, no nothing,” he said.
Once settled in, Sherman talked to a case manager about getting his life back on track. The drug court and 12-step program he enrolled in helped, but Sherman had no money, no job and no home where his daughter could stay during his scheduled turns with her. He and his wife are preparing to divorce.
Sherman formed a plan.
HELP FOR THE ‘BROKEN’
The men who enter the mission are desperate and often without hope, said Don Lineberry, the mission’s full-time receptionist. The staff estimates 60 percent to 80 percent of the more than 300 residents, called guests, suffer from mental illnesses, addictions or both. Some also combat physical disabilities.
“They are here because they are broken,” Lineberry said. “Something in their life has come to a screeching halt.”
The mission is a religious organization, and Christianity permeates everything under its roof.
Some men stay up to 17 days, especially during winter, when the mission does not enforce its usual prohibition on men who are drunk or high for fear they may freeze outside. However, those who enroll in the mission’s job-search, savings-accountability or addiction-recovery programs can stay for as long as they stick with the programs. Many stay for a year or longer before graduating, self-sufficient enough to move into independent housing.
Sherman says he is not as gung-ho on Christian spirituality as some employees, but he appreciates their efforts and does not feel imposed upon.
“This place changed my life,” he said. “I’m a Christian, but even if you’re not, they don’t shove it down your throat.”
Last year, 192 residents went through the job-search program. They prepared 15 to 25 job applications per week, depending on how job-ready they were, said Chris Monier, education and employment manager.
Mission employees help residents prepare resumes and write cover letters. They give pointers on how to dress professionally and handle job interviews. Those without high school diplomas can take classes in preparation to take General Equivalency Development tests. Others can take community college courses online.
The mission gives job seekers donated clothing for job interviews and to wear to work, as well as etiquette and grooming tips when needed. Case workers from the Idaho Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs help.
The mission also provides computers for job searching and teaches computer skills, including basic Microsoft Word and Excel. Often, computer training starts with helping residents create their first email accounts.
“We have guests who have never touched a computer in their lives,” Monier said.
SAVING PART OF THEIR EARNINGS
Sherman did not enroll in the job-search program, though the mission gave him bus passes and clothes to help him investigate job postings.
Residents like Sherman who already have jobs or who find work often enroll in the mission’s Accountability Savings Program. Case managers help them create budgets. For many men, that includes paying legal fees. Participants are required to deposit money each month into a bank account. The amount varies depending on their earnings and expenses.
Sherman said he started with a goal of saving $500. He deposited $75 or $125 per paycheck every two weeks, depending on when payments for drug-court programs were due.
After reaching his goal in December, mission employees rewarded Sherman by moving him from the open first floor to a two-man room on the second floor with more space and storage area.
“Moving out of the bottom area meant a lot to me,” he said. “I didn’t have to listen to those conversations, or smell alcohol on people, or see people high on drugs. I can go up to my room, read my books and have quiet time.”
There were 79 residents enrolled in the savings program last week. Sherman still sets aside what he can afford from his IHOP pay.
For men enrolled in the mission’s addiction recovery program, pursuing sobriety comes before pursuing a job.
Jerrad Vahsholtz, guest services manager at the mission, understands that process from his own experience. Vahsholtz, 40, was a longtime meth addict and two-time felon when a Twin Falls County sheriff’s van dropped him off at the mission in 2002 after his second stint in prison.
Meth addiction had wracked Vahsholtz since his senior year in high school. When he wasn’t smoking meth, he cooked or sold the drug. He stole to support his addiction.
“I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil,” he said. “I went full-bore into meth addiction. Every day and night for 6 1/2 years, that’s what I did.”
The recovery program has grown from one staff member to four since Vahsholtz graduated. It is now led by a certified drug-and-alcohol counselor.
An average of 20 men are enrolled in the program at any time. The men attend a religious devotional service at 8 each morning and must attend a church service of their choice on Sundays.
They meet with counselors and advance through a program that blends traditional addiction-recovery education — learning the brain chemistry of addiction and techniques for maintaining sobriety — with faith.
Vahsholtz said he needed to find God and confront his personal demons to stay clean.
“Some of us come from broken relationships, or we got hurts from our parents,” he said. “We want to clear the cobwebs in those areas, because that’s usually why people drink and why they drug.”
Lineberry, 60, is another recovery-program graduate.
A veteran, he lost a 25-year marriage and a 30-year trucking career to a meth addiction after he was arrested in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Twin Falls. Officers found him in the parked car, his home at the time, drunk with an open bottle of vodka.
“Secular-based recovery programs give you the physics of addiction, but they don’t show you any light after recovery,” Lineberry said. “The Rescue Mission brings Christianity into the picture and gives you some hope, which is a major tool in my life.”
About 30 percent of the mission’s recovery-program graduates report remaining sober after two years, Vahsholtz said.
After completing the yearlong addiction recovery program, residents become interns, working eight-hour days either at the mission or businesses.
Mission residents are now serving internships at restaurants, a radio station and Zoo Boise, among other places. Internships last two months.
The Rev. Bill Roscoe, president and CEO of Boise Rescue Mission Ministries, said the internships would not work without business owners taking a chance on interns with histories of crime and addiction.
“It’s an inspiration to all of us that people in our community are gracious and compassionate, who want to give somebody a hand up,” Roscoe said. “Part of the reason the mission has such good standing in the community is our folks have a pretty good track record.”
Brian Yeager, general manager of Christian radio stations 89.5 KTSY and Project 88.7 in Caldwell, took on a mission intern who had some radio experience. Yeager said he welcomed the chance to support the mission and to help a man. The intern works 40 hours a week doing office work, organizing promotions and events and handling the night on-air shift at Project 88.7.
“Our ethos, what we’re all about, is people,” Yeager said. “All of us have our demons. All of us, if we’re successful, can point to somebody that took a chance on us at some point.”
“Most of our people couldn’t hold a lot of anything together before coming to the mission,” Lineberry said. “The internship program gives them an idea what responsibilities taste like. We can identify triggers and keep track of their progress.”
The mission has apartments that provide transitional housing for up to 19 residents who are nearly ready to seek independent housing. Others jump straight into their own apartments or move into houses with roommates after they have saved $1,500 to $2,000 — enough for first and last month’s rent and a little savings money. The mission helps furnish dwellings with grants from Deseret Industries, a welfare service of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that operates thrift stores. The money pays for dressers, dishes and other essentials.
In 2016, 400 mission residents secured jobs and transitioned to independent housing.
Sherman hopes to join that list. He has saved about $600 and figures he needs about $1,500 to secure his own apartment.
House-hunting can be tricky for felons, but the mission has good relationships with some local property managers who are sympathetic to recovered addicts. “I’m going to take what I can get,” Sherman said.
In the meantime, he attends court-ordered 12-step addiction-recovery classes that aren’t part of the mission’s recovery program. He talks to his sponsor each day and punches the clock at IHOP.
He is on better terms with his wife, and he sees his daughter every other day. Once he secures a place to live, he said he will be able to care for his daughter half of the time.
In Sherman’s years of meth abuse, he said, he dwelled on feelings of self-doubt and helplessness and drove himself back to his vices. Six months into sobriety, he looks forward to reading in his free time.
“When I was using, in those quiet hours I’d get stuck in my head, thinking about the things I couldn’t change,” he said. “When I got out, that’s the only thing I want: some peace and quiet.”
As he strives for a more economically and socially productive life, Sherman regrets some of his past decisions and said he needs to reconcile with people hurt by his addiction.
“I needed to take a timeout, to go to jail and process some stuff,” he said. “My life is way different now. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Zach Kyle: 208-377-6464
PROGRAMS AT OTHER SHELTERS
Interfaith Sanctuary has 10 full-time case managers who are studying social work at Boise State University. Case workers help residents with job searches, including resume and interview preparation, and they go with residents to meet prospective employers and landlords and to advocate on the residents’ behalf. The sanctuary has helped 62 residents move into permanent housing since April.
The Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Boise, which provides shelter and counseling to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, also helps women find jobs. Staffers help with job searches, including resume and interview prep. Community partners offer job-placement services. Nonprofits, including Usful Glassworks and Create Common Good, sometimes hire alliance clients who need work to escape abusive households but lack skills to apply for many jobs.