TWIN FALLS — Valley House Homeless Shelter’s office was open for only 10 minutes when a family of three and a single woman came looking for places to stay. Five minutes later, single men from Twin Falls and Jerome called for help.
And this was slow for a Monday morning.
“We are inundated,” Executive Director Sharon Breshears said Jan. 30. “It’s need after need. It’s a big job.”
Magic Valley’s only shelter for homeless families, Valley House opened in 1995 and last year helped more than 5,000 people. Primarily for women and families, it helps anyone who comes to the door.
And they come or call around the clock: A bishop seeking shelter for a domestic violence victim. Transients needing bus tickets to get to the next city. Working families unable to stretch their food to the next paycheck.
The nonprofit has 90 beds: a main house for single women on Addison Avenue West, with 15 to 18 beds, plus 12 cabin-style family units behind the main house. Across the street, Valley House plans to renovate a derelict house as another single women’s shelter and build new apartments for family transitional housing. It already has 26 units of transitional housing on Martin Street.
For the clients who stream in day after day, the expansions can’t come soon enough.
When Valley House has no room for a family, it pays for a motel stay of a week or two. When a single man needs a place to stay, it works with other transitional organizations to make sure he isn’t living on the streets.
Men pay $350 a month to stay at Renaissance House and women $400 to stay at 2nd Chance Transition Corp. — transitional housing unaffiliated with Valley House. If enough donors step up, Valley House can help pay those bills. It helped the two men who called that Monday morning move into Renaissance, paying $87.50 for each.
“We will pay the first week,” Breshears said, “and make sure they have clothing or food.”
The night before, Breshears had a call from a family with an 11-year-old son, evicted and living in a car. Breshears put them in a motel for the night and brought them to Valley House the next day.
“We just had some families transition out, so we have something for them,” Breshears said as she made her morning rounds, encouraging clients and asking about their job schedules.
Breshears receives calls and texts all hours of the night. One rainy night she agreed to meet a homeless woman on a corner near a gas station; the woman never showed up, but Breshears did. Breshears’ husband often tells her to turn off her phone, but she can’t. She cares too much.
On Jan. 30, 69 people were living at the shelter’s Addison Avenue main house and family units.
“They move from day to day depending on what stage they are in,” Breshears said.
After leaving the Valley House shelter, clients have the option of applying to live at the Martin Street apartments. Tenants pay $450 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $525 for a two-bedroom — money that goes into a fund for emergency needs like providing motel rooms. Four of the 26 transitional housing units are rented to people in the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s mental health programs.
People come through the Addison Avenue office door in all types of situations: with a job, without a job, children or no children, a car or no car, some owing back rent and utilities. Some are on probation or parole.
The single women and families staying at Valley House have a 9 p.m. curfew unless they work at night, and they’re required to bring their work schedules to the office every week. Those staying in the family units must keep the units clean, provide healthy meals for their children and make sure they attend school.
Those who want to stay at Valley House must pass a background test first, and anyone older than 13 has to take a drug test.
“That’s what keeps them safe and our people safe,” Breshears said.
Breshears conducts one-on-ones with each person each week to help them budget their finances. It usually takes three to six months to save up and pay off bills.
“We are temporary housing,” Breshears said. “Not permanent housing.”
‘Now we got a home’
Ruark Dufour was making $20 an hour building homes and decks when he was laid off in Ohio. Unable to find new work, the Marine combat veteran also struggled with PTSD and alcoholism.
Hope for a better life came in the form of a job offer from a friend in Boise.
Ruark and his pregnant wife, Christina, packed their belongings and took off west in their truck. Brady, the dog that eases Ruark’s PTSD, rode in the back seat with his head propped next to Christina’s shoulder. They put all their money into getting to Idaho.
In Wyoming, they received the text that scared them both:
“No job. Pray hard.”
They continued to Boise anyway, hoping a job might come open. It never did. They slept in their truck in a hotel parking lot, where Ruark met a man from Twin Falls who told them about Valley House.
Twin Falls wasn’t their intended destination, but they couldn’t imagine leaving now. The couple held hands, sitting in separate recliners, as they told their story Jan. 30 inside their Martin Street apartment. When the couple arrived Dec. 17, Valley House put them into motels for three weeks before assigning them an apartment.
“We were warm and they provided us with food,” said Ruark, wearing a brown beanie hat and plaid long-sleeved shirt. “It’s just amazing how the city embraced us. We are going to live here and give back to the community.”
Shortly after arriving in Twin Falls, Christina had a miscarriage. In late January, she learned she was pregnant again.
“It’s been amazing,” Christina said, petting Brady. “We were in a bad spot and now we got a home.”
Breshears smiled as Christina talked. Breshears told the Dufours they needed a couch; if one were donated, she’d give it to them.
“And you’ve been wonderful,” Christina said, looking at Breshears. “We’d love to give back.”
Some Valley House volunteers fill food boxes or fold donated clothes — even after their maximum two-year stay in a Valley House apartment ends. Others shovel sidewalks or do general maintenance.
Ruark said he has survivor’s guilt after the military.
“I didn’t want to live,” he said. “I didn’t feel I had the right to live.”
Ruark’s seven years in the military took him to Kosovo, Albania, Afghanistan and Fallujah, Iraq. He thinks every day about his brothers who didn’t come home.
“It’s on my mind all the time,” he said. “It just makes me want to be a better man and help.”
Now he’s feeling more positive about life.
“We are definitely going to be a part of Valley House for a long time,” Ruark said. “I just want to be a husband and father. I want to work and come home to my family. I still believe in the American dream.”
‘Called to that place’
Breshears believes everything in her life helped her prepare for her work at Valley House.
Her father died when she was 9, and her mother became a single parent.
“We could have been homeless,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot in my life that has taught me compassion.”
She owned a graphic design and embroidery business in Homedale before moving to Hagerman; that taught her people skills and public speaking.
“Every skill and talent was a perfect fit for this in every way,” she said.
Even her cancer led her to Valley House.
Diagnosed with bladder cancer three months after moving to Hagerman, Breshears had 14 surgeries and two years of chemotherapy. On a day she felt her worst, Breshears remembers pleading aloud to God: “Is there no place for me on this Earth?”
She decided to volunteer at Valley House and hold a weekly Bible study.
“It’s what gave me a purpose again,” she said, her voice quavering and her eyes tearing up. “When you have cancer you’re kind of … it’s hard to get out of yourself. That’s all you can think about is this thing you are going through.”
When the executive director position opened, she applied.
“I had no idea I’d get a job at Valley House,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to do a job like that, and it was the perfect job. I haven’t had cancer since I walked through the doors of Valley House.”
She started the Valley House job — which paid a salary of $44,609 in 2014 — in February 2004.
“It was the medicine I needed,” she said. “I was called to that place. I feel like I’m a guardian to Valley House and those people. The cancer, it prepared me emotionally for Valley House.”
‘Getting my life straight’
All the women in the Addison Avenue house have chores. If someone doesn’t clean the bathroom or sweep the floors as assigned, it isn’t unusual for Breshears to receive a text after midnight.
“In every situation, you have to troubleshoot,” she said. “We put the responsibility back on their shoulders and it works quite well. We always hear if something is going on.”
On Jan. 30, a table in the shared common space downstairs next to the office was filled with donated bread and hamburger buns from local grocery stores and pastries from Starbucks.
Most of the house’s women were away at work or milling around the common space. Two were still asleep upstairs in their shared bedrooms — something Breshears would look into soon. They are required to be up and ready for the day by 9 a.m.
Amber Harshbarger, 24, looked at her cellphone on a couch as she waited to start her part-time shift at Arctic Circle. She also works as a warehouse secretary. She’s paying off back rent and had two more $50 payments to make.
Her goals: reunite with her two young daughters and have her own place to live. Harshbarger smiled from beneath the brim of a trucker hat stitched with the word “Sinful” as she called her time at Valley House “a new start, a fresh start.”
Juanita Gonzalez, hanging around the common area as she waited for her McDonald’s shift to begin, started to cry when Breshears asked her how things were going.
“Don’t give up,” Breshears told her.
Gonzalez lived in Buhl with her ex-husband before coming to the shelter three weeks earlier. Her goals: “getting my life straight and getting my little girl.”
“She’ll be here,” Breshears said, putting an arm around Gonzalez.
Though tears glistened in her eyes, Gonzalez’s face lit up when talking about her 8-year-old, who was due for a visit soon.
“I’m getting excited,” Gonzalez said. “I’m happy to have her even though it’s been a rough weekend.”
Breshears shared a story with Gonzalez about how beautiful the sunrise was when she drove to work that morning.
“I like going outside and looking at the stars,” Gonzalez said.
It was close to 10 a.m. when Breshears checked on the two women still sleeping upstairs.
She knocked on a door before entering. Breshears — her voice muffled behind the partly closed door — told the woman inside that she needed to do laundry. Clothing was starting to pile up on one of the beds. When Breshears emerged, she said the woman told her she had worked all the previous day and was catching up on sleep. Another woman in a darkened room told Breshears she didn’t feel well.
Breshears noticed clutter in a small hallway: a donated telescope, DVDs and drawers lined against the wall. At the end, nearest an exit, was a pile of toys Gonzalez was saving for her daughter. They couldn’t stay there. Gonzalez, who came up moments later, quickly took the box to her room. Breshears intended to have another woman remove the rest of the clutter immediately.
‘Happiest I’ve ever been’
Jobina Guadarrama, one of Valley House’s four full-time employees, organized donated clothes in the basement Jan. 18. Shelves were packed floor to ceiling with sheets, pillows and blue jeans, sorted by size. Where there weren’t shelves, plastic drawers with labels stored baby socks, kids’ underwear and women’s underwear. One room in the basement was filled with kitchenware — stacks of plates, bowls, cups, dish soap. In another room, bags packed with blankets and clothing waited for transients passing through.
If Valley House doesn’t have a particular clothing size, Guadarrama said, clients are given vouchers to Deseret Industries Thrift Store.
In 2010, Guadarrama, her three sons and her mother came to Valley House looking for help. Guadarrama and her sons had relocated from Texas to Idaho in 2008 to be closer to family. They lived with her sister for about eight months before they had a big argument and her sister threw them out.
The family received help from Valley House for nearly a year before Guadarrama could save up $1,600 — what she felt she needed — and move into a home of her own.
“We didn’t have anywhere to go,” said Guadarrama, restocking a section of jeans. “So we came here. I didn’t know where to go, and I was scared. It was awesome to stay here and have someone help you.”
In Texas, the family had its own apartment and Guadarrama cleaned houses full time. After the blowup, they stayed at a motel for two weeks before seeking help at Valley House; at first, Guadarrama’s children were embarrassed to stay at the shelter.
While she organized clothing among dozens of hanging coats and jackets, Guadarrama remembered a special moment: One time a woman was looking through the shelter’s collection of jackets and couldn’t find one she liked. But she did like the coat Breshears was wearing. Without hesitation, Breshears gave it away.
“She gave her the jacket off her back,” Guadarrama said. “I told Sharon, ‘Oh my goodness. That is amazing.’ Sharon’s an amazing lady.”
On the second floor, in a room adjacent to the Valley House office, full-time employee Christine Bapties was placing canned green beans, boxes of stuffing and packages of rice into plastic bags.
The shelter gives food boxes that can make complete meals, distributing about 300 to 350 food boxes a month.
“This is the easy part,” Bapties said. “I used to be a cashier.”
After the food was bagged, she planned to make phone calls to recruit donations for Valley House’s annual dinner and auction in April. She had already made eight calls to donors that day and had driven around town picking up food donations from businesses like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks.
Originally from Los Angeles, Bapties moved to Idaho when she was asked to be a surrogate mother for her aunt in Meridian. She was living in Rupert when she left the father of her twin daughters. She was kicked out of a halfway house — because she worked 60 hours at two jobs and didn’t have time to attend mandatory Bible studies, Bapties said — then sought shelter at Valley House.
Bapties lived at Valley House from April to June, when Breshears offered her a job as the day care coordinator. Because Valley House residents can’t also be employees, Bapties moved in with her fiance; they plan to marry April 20.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” she said.
Her advice for those who find themselves at Valley House’s door?
“Just love yourself,” Bapties said. “A lot of times when people come here it’s a low point in their life. We are trying to build people’s confidence.”
‘I’m not a lazy person’
Edris Yaqobi was feeling frustrated, worried, hopeful and grateful all at once Feb. 1 inside his cabin-style unit behind Valley House.
He was frustrated he hadn’t found a full-time job yet and worried about his 6-year-old son, Mohammad Elias Yaqobi, suffering from chronic stomach problems. But he was also hopeful for the possibilities of a better life in his new country and grateful for the help his family had found at the shelter.
The future may be uncertain, but at least they were safe.
Edris and his wife, Somiya, and their two children arrived in Twin Falls from Afghanistan in September. Edris worked nine years as an interpreter for American and Italian troops in eastern Afghanistan. Because he helped coalition forces, his life and the lives of his family were in danger. He registered in the government lottery program in 2014 and was notified in 2015 that his family was selected to relocate to the U.S.
Before what he called “the darkness of the Taliban,” Edris was a farmer. His father worked in a post office. Later, Edris became an English teacher, worked with a handicapped organization and eventually enrolled at Herat University, where he earned a business degree.
He initially wanted to go to Texas, but family living there said there was no work. He considered California but heard from friends that rent was too expensive.
So the family figured the best move would be to Idaho. Edris had a friend from Afghanistan, also an interpreter for the U.S. military, who came to Twin Falls through the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center.
When the Yaqobis arrived they had no money and nowhere to go; as immigrants through the government lottery, they weren’t eligible for assistance given to refugees settled by the CSI Refugee Center. Edris’ friend allowed them to stay in his garage for 15 days and helped them get a vehicle. In October, the family came to Valley House seeking help finding jobs and housing.
“I appreciate he give me place to live in garage,” Edris said.
Edris works part time at Chobani but wants more hours. He checks in at a local temp agency asking for work.
“I’m not a lazy person,” he said.
As her father talked, Sana Yaqobi, 4, rocked back and forth on a giant plastic mallard, pretended to talk on a toy cellphone and grinned when she made eye contact with strangers. Her mother, Somiya, washed dishes in the kitchen and heated saffron tea on the stove. When it was piping hot, she carried a tray of teacups filled with the orange liquid and small dishes filled with fruit gummies to offer them to Breshears and a Times-News reporter and photographer.
“If you knock on enough doors,” Breshears told Edris, “one will open. Maybe God’s just saying one is coming.”
Edris speaks English well but with an accent; Somiya doesn’t speak any English. Audrey Kelley, assistant director of Valley House, said Somiya came into the office for a toothbrush one day. She didn’t know the word, but after a couple of seconds of gestures Kelley figured out what she needed.
“It kind of teaches us patience,” Kelley said.
When Somiya noticed her guests had eaten all their snacks, she came over with a tray of chocolate-covered nuts. When her guests rose to leave, she encouraged them not to feel rushed and to sit and enjoy their tea.
Somiya said, as her husband translated, that her family did not live in a garage in Afghanistan, but she is thankful for the kindness she has received in Twin Falls.
“They help me a lot,” Somiya said. “Thank you very much. She help me with everything because my English is not good.”
As Edris walked his guests to the door, he thanked Breshears again.
“I appreciate these people,” Edris said. “They help me a lot. I honestly appreciate them.”