Rising from the ashes - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Rising from the ashes

CHS grad, with help, recovering from blaze that took all he had

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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 9:32 am, Fri Nov 16, 2012.

COEUR d'ALENE - On Sept. 14, a fire took most everything of what Jim Houk owned.

Mobile home, destroyed.

Furniture, gone.

Clothing, ruined.

The 1979 Coeur d'Alene High School graduate and former mill worker found himself in a place he never thought possible: Homeless and broke.

"It's been rough," he said.

Houk recalls walking out of the bathroom, seeing the flames later determined to be started on a mattress by a discarded cigarette, and fleeing.

"I ran out of the house with no clothes on, I just grabbed a blanket," he said.

Other than singed hair when he tried to battle the blaze with a hose, Houk was physically OK.

Mentally, emotionally, financially, not so much. The home was not insured.

"His emotions are catching up with him," said his sister, Diane Ahlers. "I think it's hit pretty hard."

The 52-year-old Houk, sitting next to his sister, fought back tears as he listened.

"Stay strong," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Following the fire, Holiday Inn Express in Coeur d'Alene provided Houk with a complimentary room. American Red Cross paid for several more nights and provided vouchers for clothes and food.

He tried staying with family, but it didn't work out. He slept in his 1999 Ford truck, with a broken window, for a night, and over the weekend, camped on the property of his totaled trailer.

"The weather was decent. I slept good," he said, smiling. "I love camping."

Monday, Houk caught a break. A bed opened in the St. Vincent de Paul men's shelter in Coeur d'Alene, and he got it.

"I got lucky, " he said.

Indeed, he did.

Matt Hutchinson, St. Vincent's social services director, said the shelter has been running at its 15-bed capacity and turns people away daily.

"We are slammed," he said.

There is frequent turnover, Hutchinson said, but men in Houk's situation will find it "hit or miss" at the shelter. They must arrive early and be patient if they hope to get a bed for the night.

With fall here and winter not far behind, there will be even more demand from homeless men needing a place to stay at the only men's shelter in North Idaho.

Most don't have jobs. They don't have family in the area. They might suffer from physical or mental illness or be recovering from alcohol or drugs. The average stay is about 30 days.

"It's the same old thing," Hutchinson said. "The problems remain."

Houk has battled through his share of problems.

The former mill worker suffered several job-related injuries, and a 1992 vehicle accident left him paralyzed for a time. He later returned to the mills and drove a taxi, too, but neck and knee surgeries, and an ailing back, sidelined him.

Today, Houk survives on about $1,200 a month in disability.

His two-bedroom, two-bath mobile was his sanctuary, well kept and cozy. He had lived in his singlewide trailer on East Seltice Way in the Hidden Hills mobile home park for 15 years.

The fire took it away.

"That was all he had," Ahlers said.

With little savings, Houk appreciates the help he has received. He hopes to recover and land in a low-income apartment, perhaps even own a home again.

But he and his sister both know that will be difficult.

"With no job and disability, there's not much option for this poor guy," she said.

St. Vincent's will help him find his way back, as will Red Cross. And his sister is there, too. A Jim Houk Relief Fund has been established at US Bank.

But equally important, says Jamie Hill, emergency services director for Red Cross, is that folks like Houk dig in on their own.

"We help the process along, but don't do all the work for them," she said.

Houk vows to do his part.

He loves North Idaho. This has been his home since he was 13 years old. The initial shock of what happened has passed. He has regained his calm and composure. The tears have dried. There are, he believes, better days ahead.

"I'm thankful for what everyone has done for me," he said.

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  • idahoguy posted at 9:38 am on Sun, Sep 30, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    I do not know about Jullee... But I started out after high school hitch hiking for a couple years. Then woke up and realized the rides i got were from people who worked to buy their rigs and gas. What a concept!!

    I had to work to stop standing in the rain. So I put myself back through college a couple times with no hand outs, no govt loans, no family support no one giving me squat.

    I move to Idaho and worked for nothing for over a month to just prove my drive and determination. It was not easy and it took a long time but I bought and paid for mt own countryside land and built there. Retried at 50 or so and will not pander to folks on the nipple who make repeated bad life choices.

    With the help of God I made it with no govt help, no family buying my way through life. As a matter of fact my great grand parents all moved here from Europe and shoveled coal on steams to help pay their way. They opened their own business on the east coast and it is still in the family right now. No help either.

    I admire hard work and especially smart hard work. I admire smart people who read the labels which say this will kill you and then do not eat, smoke or consume it. Don't you?

    I am pretty much set for life now and if I could do it from a hitch hiked to this... then why not you and especially with all the help tax payers are now funding?

  • Joseph Jr posted at 10:20 am on Sat, Sep 29, 2012.

    Joseph Jr Posts: 512

    I agree with compassion. None of us know this fellows disability.

    Don't confuse compassion with "indifference."

    There are so many capable people receiving disability and welfare benefits, it's outrageous. Only this fellow knows if he is able to perform work and gain employment.

  • Joseph Jr posted at 10:16 am on Sat, Sep 29, 2012.

    Joseph Jr Posts: 512

    Idaho Guy,

    There are far too many people, capable of working and supporting themselves, who simply do not want to work and have become accustomed to government funded (taxpayer money) "entitlements." I am not saying that is the case here.

    The rate of those on disability benefits (lives funded with taxpayer money) has soared since late 2006. That coincides with the rate of unemployment which has dramatically risen since 2007. Many capable people do not want to work. Everybody has a back problem or some other "disability."

    Some "disabilities" are legitimate, and some are not. People who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, can seek disability benefits based on psychological issues, which of course most have as a result of drinking and drug use.

    Then there are so many single parents...who play the "victim" role. They justify their choice of producing children they cannot afford to care for, and try to guilt society so they can receive benefits of all kinds. Their children suffer greatly, living in Section 8 (subsidized) housing, and worse yet, they get to hear their single mother or father constantly complain about how difficult it is. What kind of message does that send to a child? Selfishly, the parent wants sympathy...and the child learns they are the reason for the typical poverty. It's never a child's fault. Yet it is their burden...

    47% of American's do not contribute anything. (No, I'm not a Romney or Obama supporter) The majority of the 47% receive benefits of some kind. The benefits are paid for by those who work. That leaves 53% to fund welfare, Social Security, VA Benefits, Disability Benefits, and try to provide for all government entitites (law enforcement, schools, roads, libraries, etc.). That's quite a load on the back of a few...

    The idea that only the wealthy pay a substantial amount in taxes is bologna. But, those who rely on benefits, eat up that notion. I believe it helps them to justify taking the benefits they have not earned. I am not wealthy, but have paid more (percentage) in taxes than Obama or Romney over the last 30 years. The wealthy liberal and conservative elitists make me sick. Romney recently described the middle class as those earning $250,00 a year. Then he changed it to $200,000 a year. I have never earned that much. I guess that makes me lower income.

    The wealthy avoid taxation with tax loopholes. The "poor" who don't earn anything, and who take other people's money to live on, pay nothing. The middle class is greatly burdened and used by both parites to financially support the nation and those who don't work.

    I don't know how bad this guy's disability is, but I do wonder if he could possibly get a job and earn an income. Course, then there might be other additional benefits he would loose. I don't know. Most people are better off financially receiving disability or welfare benefits, than going to work for minimum wage. Isn't that ironic?

    It's a moral decision for many. I hope that if this guy is truly able to perform some kind of work, he will consider trying to obtain employment. We've done work, most people welfare would consider themselves "too good" to do. Hey, just sayin'...

  • Joseph Jr posted at 9:47 am on Sat, Sep 29, 2012.

    Joseph Jr Posts: 512


    I am pretty conservative politically, which means I am conservative with my money.

    I have noticed a pattern among people who have been blessed financially by their families through inheritance, gifts, trusts and even law$uit$, having a complete disregard for those who have stood on their own two feet. Most of these arrogant people couldn't stand on their own two feet without the financial and emotional support they've been handed. Most are too arrogant to consider life without all that help.

    I'd love to delve into your financial and family history. Did you, or do you have well to do grandparents, parents, family members, etc., who've paid some bills for you, or maybe just "helped" you out a little, with say a down payment on a home, or purchase of a vehicle? My guess is, you've received plenty of financial assistance in your lifetime. Few people with arrogance such as yours, have actually made it completely on their own.

    Holding other people to a higher standard than you hold yourself to, is little more than self-righteous arrogance and hypocrisy, knowing nothing of compassion for their fellow man.

  • Jullee posted at 10:56 am on Fri, Sep 28, 2012.

    Jullee Posts: 539

    Taking responsibility for ones actions...Hummm...Interesting concept.

  • idahoguy posted at 7:20 am on Fri, Sep 28, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    In addition I would like to see anyone on any govt hand outs over six months have any and all further handouts recorded and then deducted from their future earnings or any income, or income when they are finally forced to go back to work.

    We need to stop hand out and make them short term loans which will be paid back. Knowing that is a great incentive to drop off the nipple and get to work again.

  • idahoguy posted at 6:52 am on Fri, Sep 28, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    Right on....

    I am not interested in being taxed either to help pay for his way back.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 6:23 am on Fri, Sep 28, 2012.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530


    How is it judging someone by saying that they are responsible for their own demise? Was I smoking in Houk's bed? Was IG smoking in his bed? Were YOU smoking in his bed? Was it any of us that did not "MAKE SURE" the cig was out?

    We need personal accountability to the best of ones ability back in this country. That means, if you chose to smoke in bed make D@#N sure your own cig is completely out or contained before you walk away from it. Just like a campfire, fireplace, wood stove, etc.....

  • idahoguy posted at 5:06 am on Fri, Sep 28, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    WOW... I better go back and re-read where someone said Jim had no value and has not contributed to society. Or are you just lying?

    I am more of a libertarian/conservative who believes very much in PC. Personal Accountability. ....Not shared responsibility....

    Jim chose to smoke those the high costs of those cancer sticks rather than buy insurance. Now I wonder if he has truck insurance or is he breaking that law now?

    Now diamond is suggesting he might have had a pet or two he could not afford either.... Those frisky pets might have started the fire... ha ha ha. Spreading the blame around and side stepping the issues will never change PC.

    Insurance is for such situations...period. Smoking kills you... period. Now he is starting over in life still insisting on killing himself by smoking. Also wonder why his family gave him the boot. Funny how the Press still never asks the right questions....

    I feel sorry for Jim and pity his life choices and where they took him. I bet he would have done stuff differently now. By the way I hurt my hand yesterday and will need to tape it up for several days and not use it. I have medical insurance as well. But I will tape it up here and get back to work even though it hurts to move it. Life goes on and will pass you by and leave you in some out of the way trailer park if you let it.

    I still see help wanted signs around town....

  • searcher posted at 8:52 pm on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    searcher Posts: 365

    You people are something else. It is so easy for you to judge people and assume the worst of human nature. No wonder you're all going to vote for Republicans - you have the same disdain for people that Romney has for 47% of the population. Your superior attitudes show what kind of human beings you are. Clearly compassion and empathy are dirty words in your books. Accidents can happen to anyone. Everyone has value and a contribution to make to society, but not everyone is able to do it on their own like you macho sovereign citizens.

  • PurpleDIamond posted at 8:52 pm on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    PurpleDIamond Posts: 3

    Remember that next time something happens to you! It was your fault because you got out of bed that day. I once out out a candle saw the little smoke billow, went to get a drink, came back & it re-lit it's self. My mom put out a candle on her desk & went to bed. In the morning the dish it was in was cracked & the oak top was burned. I used to bar tend & we put all ashes in the can every once in awhile one of them would lite that rest of the butts on fire. STOP blaming him because he smoked !! ANYTIME fire is involved you can't be sure. Maybe he had a cat or dog that knocked it off?

  • concernedcitizen posted at 7:11 pm on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    Im sorry but IG is right. Abrasive...... but right. Negligence led to this fire. If Houk would have made sure his cig was out this would have never happened and he would still have a home.

  • PurpleDIamond posted at 11:12 am on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    PurpleDIamond Posts: 3

    Not everyone is as perfect as you. Someone needs to teach you a lesson on compassion. I hope the people in your life are as heartless towards you as you are towards strangers. Maybe one day you will finally understand.

  • idahoguy posted at 8:13 am on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    Pain? I am well aware of pain... so what? I still get up and work the Ranch regardless of pain.

    What is a real pain to me is all the easy to get disability ratings which I could also get but refuse to wimp out. If you can drive, shop, cook, eat, shower, sit in a movie theater, reach for another smoke and light it... then you can freaking work!! Why? Because you already are working and making efforts.

    He could have had good insurance if had not been smoking it all up instead...Read and weep.

    A live in care taker does everything this guy was doing and it was a job they get paid for...right? So if you can do it you can work.

  • PurpleDIamond posted at 12:36 am on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    PurpleDIamond Posts: 3

    Wow! & I thought people in Vegas were mean! What part of disabled did you people not understand? You be in pain 24/7 & see how long you last at a job. That's why they have disability. I grew up in CDA & went to school with Jim, he was always one of the nice kids. Do any of you know what it's like to lose everything? I don't agree with smoking but that's besides the point. Have some compassion people cause it could just as easily have been your home that burnt to the ground !!

  • SPUDIO posted at 4:57 pm on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    SPUDIO Posts: 101

    Heather feather you cannot get rental insurance or homeowners insurance for 80 dollars a year your 80 bucks for insurance has to be a totally differant type coverage.

  • heatherfeather posted at 11:28 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    heatherfeather Posts: 297

    Many ARE doing so poorly in life because they spend their money on smoking, drinking, lotto, weed, etc...

    We own a couple rental mobile homes. Insurance is about $80 a year.

  • idahoguy posted at 7:32 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    I agree so many are but a day away from ashes.

    I am always amazed how many doing so poorly in life can afford to and will waste money on smoking and drinking and gambling while they save nothing for their future.....

  • CaiusCosades posted at 6:10 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    CaiusCosades Posts: 380

    Poor guy, it's scary to think how close to the edge of the financial abyss a lot of us are. Scares me to think that many of us are one fire, one injury, one medical crisis away from having to sleep in our trucks.

  • idahoguy posted at 6:06 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    Smoking in bed.....
    1,200.00 per month? 14,400 per year and not even going to work? Life is tough all over.

    We are helping a friend on unemployment at 800.00 with a very short duration not for life.

    Time to get a job, stop wasting money on cancer sticks and do not get the Press to run your life story unless it is one of a successful life as a good mentor. By the way what were you expecting to do the rest of your life in an old mobile home and no retirement savings. One must plan ahead and then act on said plans....

  • voxpop posted at 4:58 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    voxpop Posts: 738

    Sorry. It's a sob story from a careless fool.

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