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BOISE — Lots of Boiseans were taking walks, binging Netflix and learning how to bake bread during quarantine, but Jimmy Boyd was getting sober.

Boyd, 57, has been struggling with alcohol for years. It hurt his health and ability to hold down a job, and ultimately led him to sleep in homeless shelters and on the streets of Boise. He tried program after program and moved in and out of medical detox facilities in the Treasure Valley, only to be left without a safety net and fall immediately back into old habits.

But now, he has been sober just shy of six months. He hasn’t smoked cigarettes in more than a month either. Boyd says this is all thanks to Interfaith Sanctuary’s addiction program called Project Recovery, which started in October.

“This program really took away most of the worries from me,” he said. “There was no way I was going to do it on my own.”

Most guests at emergency shelter Interfaith Sanctuary check in for the night in the late afternoon, stay the night and have to be gone by morning onto the streets. This proves especially difficult for people like Boyd who go into treatment facilities, such as the publicly funded Allumbaugh House, to detox and then are immediately released back to the shelter and have no support during the day not to seek out drugs or alcohol.

Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said her staff started Project Recovery after they kept seeing homeless residents leaving treatment and immediately relapsing because they had nowhere to turn most of the day. To combat this, Project Recovery is a daily program where guests at Interfaith Sanctuary can be directly discharged from Allumbaugh House to Project Recovery for a full day of activities, counseling, medication management and general support so they can stay clean and sober.

Since it started last fall, roughly three dozen shelter guests have participated in programming in some form, and 20 have been "profoundly impacted and engaged," Peterson-Stigers said. The program has a maximum class size of 12 and is currently at capacity with a wait list. It is funded by the shelter's operating funds, which it raises from private donations. 

Boyd is the first graduate.

“The failure with these detox facilities is there is no programming following the medical detox,” Peterson-Stigers said. “(People in recovery) need to be held up and kept safe to be successful, and so that’s why we created Project Recovery, so we wouldn’t keep watching our guests go in and out of these detox facilities and failing back. It was a broken system.”

Boyd has been homeless in Boise for two years now since separating from his wife in Pocatello. When he first came to Boise he said his drinking landed him at the Boise Rescue Mission, but he said he was unable to stay because of his substance abuse and he was not interested in a recovery program focused on religion.

Without any kind of long-term support, he kept drifting in and out of shelters and detox facilities while facing intense struggles with mental illness. Boyd praised the Boise Police Department for responding to his 911 calls when he was feeling suicidal and all of their rides to Allumbaugh House or to Intermountain Hospital, which provides behavioral health treatment.

“I feel sorry for anybody who is still active in (alcoholism) because I know exactly how it feels,” he said. “It will drive you to insanity, eventually. It will drive you to be suicidal.”

When Boyd graduated, the shelter threw him a party to celebrate his accomplishments. This came with a surprise: a hotel room for him to stay outside of the shelter as he starts to become more independent in his sober life. He was extremely grateful, but also terrified of living alone for the first time in his life. But after exploring his issues with co-dependency in Project Recovery he realized it was a step he needed to take.

Another part of his move to the hotel included surgery on both of his eyes to remove cataracts that had built up over the years and left him almost legally blind. After two months of waiting for elective surgery to resume in Boise during the COVID-19 pandemic, Boyd had his eyes fixed in mid-June and is ready to continue on to the path toward employment.

He said now that he is sober he has enjoyed shopping for clothes at the Idaho Youth Ranch and working out at the YMCA, but he is ready to get back to work and start saving money for a car. When he first wanted to get back to work a Project Recovery staff member was concerned it could push him to relapse, which he said was a different reaction than he had ever heard in his struggles to stay sober.

“People had always told me, ‘Go out there and get a job,' but she was actually concerned about me getting a job because it would put a lot of money in my pocket, which would mean I could go off and drink again, and it also (would) put a lot of stress on me,” he said. “But, it’s getting time to get back to work.”

Peterson-Stigers said she is immensely proud of Boyd for his accomplishments and his perspective on his addiction.

“The beautiful thing about Jimmy is really obvious when he talks to you,” she said. “He owns his alcoholism. He does not place blame on anyone. There have been things that have happened in his life, but at no point does he say it’s because of another person.”

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