AMMON — Not too long ago, Jerry Aguirre was a wreck.
Aguirre said he moved away from a bad situation in California and quickly found another one in Idaho. He lost his job, his girlfriend, his home, his dog and eventually his freedom last year. He got out of prison in April, and moved into a shelter where the rent was $500 a month. Unsure if he would be able to afford to keep a roof over his head, he got on CLUB Inc.’s waiting list and called every week to ensure he remained on it, getting a spot in its Idaho Falls home in August.
While the men in the house sometimes butt heads, Aguirre said, they all respect each other, and he knows he can go home to a place where he doesn’t have to worry about his roommates drinking or using drugs.
“If it wasn’t for CLUB Inc., I don’t know where I’d be in my recovery,” he said. “It’s hard to stay clean and sober on the streets. I’ve tried.”
CLUB Inc. provides longer-term housing for the homeless, with some people staying in one of its homes for a few years.
“Here, we try to stabilize individuals through the things that we have,” said Blair Bradley, the case manager at CLUB’s men’s homes in Idaho Falls and Ammon.
CLUB also provides services such as rental assistance and short-term housing help. In the rural towns surrounding Idaho Falls in particular, Bradley said, it can be very difficult to find another place to live if you get displaced — there isn’t much affordable housing available, and the waitlist for Section 8 rental housing assistance is two years. The homeless housing services are largely supported with grants through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, said Executive Director Bill Campbell, and donations help CLUB pay other bills and support some of its other programs. The United Way of Idaho Falls/Bonneville County also helps with life-skills training and other services at CLUB’s Drop-In Center.
The case managers help the longer-term residents with services such as connecting them with mental health or substance abuse treatment or helping them look for a job.
“It ain’t just a place to rest your head,” Bradley said. “We try to encourage those independent life skills moving forward.”
CLUB Inc. has 33 beds total at five different properties. Their two homes in Ammon — one for men, one for women, each with eight rooms — have a common area for people to cook, watch TV and hang out, and hallways off of that with the individual resident rooms.
Bradley said he tries to make it feel like a real home for the people who live there. Staff members visit daily, but they don’t constantly monitor the residents or their lives. Bradley said he talks to people and lets them know how they are expected to behave, but there aren’t large signs listing the rules, and other than a couple of giveaways such as the fire extinguishers the homes feels like anyone else’s house, not like an institution. This is exactly how Bradley wants it.
“I’d rather have a … small Christmas tree, or pictures on the wall,” Bradley said.
Allen Young said having a stable environment, with access to things many people take for granted such as clothes, a place to shower and put his groceries and an address he can put on job applications, has helped him to find work as a laborer.
“None of those would have even been possible if I hadn’t had the proper structure,” he said.
Young has had problems with alcohol and meth in the past. He has lived in CLUB’s Ammon home for four months, and is working to get his driver’s license.
“It opened my eyes to people in a whole different light,” he said. “Because I thought that everybody was out to get me and I would never succeed.”
Robert Poletti lived in one of CLUB’s homes a few years ago. He started making money again and moved out, but relapsed and ended up homeless again and with drug-induced schizophrenia. He moved back into CLUB’s housing in May 2016 and has been there since.
“I ended up a lost soul on the street for a while and I ended up back here,” he said.
Now that he is back, Bradley has been helping Poletti with his Social Security paperwork and to learn skills such as budgeting and paying his bills. He recently got his driver’s license, which he hadn’t had since 2008. Now, he is working to get caught up on taxes and child support and save up a few months’ rent so he can move out.
“I was really grateful to be able to come back,” Poletti said.
Poletti is a carpenter; he has done some work building decks since moving back in, and hopes to continue to build his business.
Aguirre is working on a workman’s compensation claim now. Having a place to stay means he can get mail from his lawyer, and Christmas and birthday cards from his family and friends.
“I get to get in touch with God,” he said. “I get to read the word every morning in peace and quiet.”
He may have been forced to abstain from drugs and alcohol in prison, but now that he’s at one of CLUB’s homes Aguirre has been able to work on truly recovering and addressing other problems in his life.
“I’ve made a total turnaround from the person that I was,” he said.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.