A night sheltering from the dark at Interfaith Sanctuary in Boise
This story is part of a series called "After Dark." Find other stories in the series here.
It's 7 p.m. on a Thursday in December. Downtown Boise has been quieted by snow and the winter darkness. Outside the shelter, the city streets are sparse but cars whiz by on the freeway running parallel to the building.
Inside, guests are hanging out in the common room under the fluorescent lighting. People are microwaving food – spaghetti and bread rolls – and chatting while a movie plays on a television mounted to the wall. Their stuff is piled in big plastic bags by the staff desk.
The temperatures are in the 20s, but inside it's warm and lively.
Jaden is grabbing rubber gloves and disinfecting wipes from the maintenance cart for her nightly chores. She's a long-term guest at the shelter and has been there for almost a year.
"My nighttime routine is basically get my sleeping med in me and then I'll go out and I'll smoke," she said. "So it's been calming to me to go out and like kinda just watch the cars go by."
Jaden is enrolled in Project Well-Being, a program that gives her a bed at Interfaith for as long as she goes to group, follows curfew and other shelter rules. Participants get to stay in a separate wing away from the main area where short-term guests normally sleep.
The program side is quieter and feels more like a home, one that has a lot of roommates. There are couches, a small aquarium, an art room and a table full of indoor plants warming under UV lights.
Unlike other guests, program participants don't have to leave every morning and can stay at the shelter during the day.
I have so much more empathy now, I would say, for people experiencing the mental health crisis or just not having the financial ability to pay for housing.
When Jaden used to walk by people on the streets before she experienced homelessness, she didn't think about the logistics of making it day by day, night by night.
"There really is a day and nightlife that's different than people who are housed," she said. "I didn't use to think like homeless people could be patient or it's actually work. A lot of the time of the homeless is spent waiting, like waiting to get inside, to go in and check-in and waiting to go get your bunk ready or your floor spot."
Jaden first experienced instability when her family lost their home during the 2008 housing crisis. A few years later, she ended up sleeping outside, going in and out of hospitals until she got her long-term spot at the shelter.
"I've been doing coffee with my sister every Wednesday, so we've been reconnecting and re-bonding. Kind of like getting that time together that we didn't get when I was using, so it's been good."
Because it gets dark so early this time of year, the shelter feels extra cozy to Jaden. She told me it feels pretty peaceful and helps her gear down her mind. She also told me Interfaith Sanctuary feels like home to her.
However, not everyone at the shelter feels this way. On a smoke break outside, Jaden is joined by Hippsie and Molly. Hippsie says it's constantly full of chaos and Molly agreed, noting peace was hard to come by at the shelter.
"Whether you're dealing with your own stuff or just other people kind of having issues with each other, you try and stay out of it," Molly said. "But it's not often quiet here until two in the morning when everyone else is asleep."
Back in the main room, staff member Terrence Sharrer Jr is doing roll call and assigning bunks to the people on the waitlist for the night. It's 8 p.m., one hour away from lights out.
"I think I'll have room for everyone tonight, so that's a good thing," Terrence said.
The shelter can be chaotic but Jaden says the night is one of the few times when people experiencing homelessness can escape the constant judgement of the outside world.
We're not experiencing that sort of fishbowl sensation of being kind of seen and watched from the corner of their eyes, the vehicle or wherever they are. That's the feeling of the nighttime rather than the daytime, because we're not being observed.Jaden
By 9 p.m., the lights are dimmed and things slow down. Jaden goes to bed in the dorm room she shares with the other women in the program. She sleeps in one of the top bunks.
"It's usually just kind of, I don't know, dark and not dreary. It's like, okay everyone's played for the day and we're all like calming down, getting ready for bed," she said.
In the morning, Jaden will journal and attend a meditation group.
People on the other side of the shelter will wake up sometime around 6 a.m., do chores, pack up and leave the space an hour later, looking for a warm place to stay for the day.
At 5 p.m., the doors will open again to provide another night of shelter for those seeking refuge from the dark.
Find reporter Julie Luchetta on Twitter @JulieLuchetta.