Thursday, November 20, 2014

Take A Picture

Colloquial phrases are interesting. These regional ways of saying things can be endearing if the message is positive, or very alienating if the connotation is negative. Where I grew up, if a person stared too long at someone else, the intrusive viewer was often met with a curt, "Take a picture, it'll last longer."

Hint, hint... Stop staring because its rude.

For a child, this is easier said than done. I don't think kids stare with the intention of being mean or creating awkward situations. Instead, many children are naturally curious and things they don't understand attract their attention. Not to gawk, but to process.

Especially, when they see someone who doesn't look like them…

The school at their lunch table with no lunch. The older gentleman with the crooked haircut and shabby army jacket. The lady wearing clothes from the thrift store. A hungry man holding a sign declaring his exasperation for the rest of the world to see.

Take a picture, it will last longer.

Only, it won't.

Back in the day, taking pictures meant carrying around a small, but clunky device that held film. Now, snapping a picture is second nature to anyone with a smartphone or tablet. Kodak has been replaced by Kardashian. Today, we live in a viral world where social media dictates and drives our habits and daily trajectories. The scenes we see are snapped, downloaded, posted, reposted, and liked in a matter of seconds. We have become experts at viewing life in a detached mode of bystanding. Taking pictures does not last as long as it used to because we probably delete 20 for every one we keep.

It's the pictures we internalize and hold captive in our minds that truly transform our lives. Those moments we see something that becomes inescapable because of the context. We don't just recall the homeless lady on the corner, but we can feel the wind whipping against our face. We remember we were hungry as we walked past her on our way to lunch. We empathize every time we close our eyes and resurrect the image. We don't gawk... We process.

But then what? These tangible memories are wasted unless we use them as motivation to help others move forward. If you are reading this blog, then you have some interest in helping eliminate homelessness in Kalispell and the surrounding areas. But what are you doing besides reading? How can we take and channel a desire to do right into a proactive way of living?

Maybe we should all take more pictures.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dollars and Sense

I thought it might be interesting to research wages in America. I know... and you're probably right... I need a hobby. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of meeting all sorts of people in Montana.

We live in a bizzaro and surreal state where you might bump into a professional athlete or movie star at the grocery store before passing a homeless sign holder as you drive away. In Montana, worth is determined by character and integrity, and not by how much a person makes. I've met multi-millionaires who were humble beyond belief and I've rubbed shoulders with people in the dollar menu line who had no business being as arrogant as they were. People deserve respect because of who they are and not because of what now much they make.

In the economy at large, civilian compensation is increasing at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average U.S. wage in 2012 was $42,498, according to the Social Security Administration. I thought this was interesting because it encompassed a large sample pool. I furthered my research to look at a few narrower categories.

The yearly average salary for a professional baseball player is $3.39 million, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association. This takes in account the disparity between the highest paid player (a few made $25 million) and the league minimum of $480,000. So, if there are 162 games in a season, the average player gets $1,400 each time he adjusts himself if he adjusts himself 15 times a game over the course of one season. Nice gig if you can get it.

Nationally, high school teachers average $46,345. Again, this meeds to be examined a little more closely because teachers working more than 20 years average close to $58,000 while the average for a first year teacher is $36,000. In Montana, the average starting teaching salary is $26,734. I think you should go find a teacher and hug him or her.

The beginning salary for a police officer in one of Montana's largest cities is $45,841.By the time that officer retires he or she will make close to $61,000. These dedicated public servants regularly put their lives on the line, so I'm reluctant to say there is ever a wage that equals the risk they incur every day.

An electrician in Big Sky country can pull in $53,000, annually. I would like to take this portion of the blog to address the misconception that a person needs to graduate from a 4 year college or university to make a successful living: Um, no... Not necessarily. This industry combines hands-on training with exhaustive technical training.

Large transnational box stores are some of the largest employers in Montana, as well as the rest of America. These megastores provide groceries, vision care, as well as any item a person could ever need. Based upon their 34 hour (full-time) work week, being a cashier at one of the largest national chains will earn a person $15,576. Working hard for almost $27,000 less than the national average demands respect, admiration, and an admittance that some things need to change.

Whatever you make, please understand your value as a person is not tied to that dollar amount. No matter which pay scale you cling to, or how many years toy have been serving those around you, what makes you an invaluable part of the community is your treatment of others.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thanksgiving Items Needed

Thanksgiving is one our favorite days of the year. It is an opportunity to serve our residents and, in turn, have our lives touched by them. The preparation for this amazing day has already begun and we are planning on serving more than 40 people this year. Here is a list of items we need in order to continue making this day special for so many of our homeless residents.

Lots of turkeys!
cranberry sauce
turkey gravy
pies of all kinds
pie crust
brown sugar
chocolate pudding mix
banana pudding mix
cool whip
dinner rolls
pumpkin pie spice
green beans

You can call our office for more information, or feel free to bring any donations by. Thank you so much for all your help in making this holiday one to remember.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

John Tesh's Secret Plan to Rule the World

I am not a John Tesh fan.

He might be an amazing man, and he has never done anything that warrants my vitriolic ire. The more I think about this, the reason fueling my dislike is petty and juvenile. It's his voice.

His calm and soothing voice trickles over the radio as he dispenses wisdom like he's Socrates while we drive around running errands and scratching off to-do lists during peak driving hours. He has the voice of an angel and I wholeheartedly believe he is trying to lull us into a hypnotic trance and brainwash us into becoming his disciples. Now, I cannot prove any of this and have absolutely no scientific research to back my paranoia, but it's a working theory. A few weeks ago I was severely alarmed.

I was trapped at a stoplight one afternoon as he lazily and melodically tried to cast his spell within my car. He was talking about the next "gotta have" item about to be unleashed upon the American public. He raved about the usefulness and utilitarian genius of this item and declared its necessity as a foregone conclusion. I eagerly awaited the announcement of such an epically global device; something benefiting all of humanity and ushering in the dawn of a better age. White-knuckled, I strained to hear the pronouncement as the light swapped red for green and he giddily said that by next summer every American must have a...

...Giorgio Armani handbag.

Ugh. I feared it was going to be something along that line of thinking. My frustration with America's disconnect between what people want and what people ran a gauntlet of emotions as I continued on my drive. I will admit sometimes I take things too seriously and I know this can drive people nuts. But I am truly saddened by the existence of a whole demographic of people whose biggest fear is that they won't have this man-purse before their neighbors. It truly is a 'gotta have it' for them because they are so out of touch with the genuine needs haunting so many people.

Please don't misunderstand my intention. I am not railing against luxurious things or expensive items that many people enjoy. I am not trying to brow-beat anyone into selling off everything they have and going all Oscar Schindler... pawning personal items to fund charitable or humanitarian endeavors. Actually, I am proud proponent of people enjoying the nice things they have earned and worked for. Effort and industry should be rewarded.

But what rankles and infuriates me is the spirit behind these types of attitudes: the messages smugly stating such a warped sense of priority. We live in a society that perpetuates the cosmopolitan ideology of a few who attempt to speak for the humbled perspective of the many. Most Montanans would echo the sentiment that we don't need a $3,000 hand bag. We need an economy that provides jobs and livable wages. We need businesses who fuel our community. We need to feel safe in public and comfortable in private. We need people willing to help others because it is the right thing to do and not because it looks good in the press. We need a proper sense of what need actually means.

Sorry, John Tesh... I suppose I should take issue with the message and not the messenger.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thank You to our Veterans

In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words:

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

One of the reasons I can type this blog is because I live in a nation valuing my right to speak and write freely. I am afforded this immeasurable right because so many people have sacrificed to provide me with this opportunity. At Samaritan House, we understand the importance our US Veterans play in our daily lives. We would like to take this chance to honor them for their commitment to this country, as well as Montana.

In 2009, the federal government committed to ending veteran homelessness in the U.S. by the end of 2015. Since 2010, there has been a 33 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans. According to data collected during the 2014 Point-in-Time Count, 49,933 veterans experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2014. That estimate represents a 14 percent decline compared to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2013 estimate, and a 33 percent decline compared to its 2010 estimate.

The veteran homelessness population is made up of veterans who served in several different conflicts, ranging from World War II to the recent conflicts. Though research indicates that veterans who served in the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era are at greatest risk of homelessness, veterans returning from the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq often have severe disabilities, including traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that are known to be correlated with homelessness. And as the military evolves, so too do the challenges. Homeless women veterans, for instance, are far more common now than in any other time in the past.

On this day, we humbly ask that you not only take time to honor those who served our country, but that you would also ask yourself how you can play a role in helping those who return home and find themselves homeless.

Extra information courtesy of the National Alliance to End Homelessness

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ramblin' Man

Montana's cowboy culture has always valued a good cattle-drive tune. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I've tried to incorporate this valued heritage from a homeless perspective. For the record, I am not a professional songwriter, so please take this with a huge grain of salt!!!

Ramblin' Man

Pack my bags, time to go,
Outta here...lets hit the road.
Wherever I been, been there long enough,
I'm off, my friend, before I'm out of luck.
I move too slow to try and outrun life,
Take the road less-traveled, then hang a right.

Never been lost, but sure been misplaced,
Never looked back to where my roots are traced.
Never counted hurdles or things I've faced,
Never challenged honor to cause disgrace.

Lonely roads, and highway signs,
Exit ramps mark my good times.
Been alone a while and hung out with myself,
Don't need many friends when you got your health.
Seen places I shouldn't while I ate with kings,
Watched the sun in the winter, crossed bridges with wings.

Always had a focus but never made real plans,
Aways worked hard, felt the dirt in my hands.
Always have love, long as I'll always have land,
Always be known as a Ramblin' Man.

Curt Lamm

Monday, November 3, 2014

Not Quite Thanksgiving...

What has four wheels and carries a turkey?

Unless you own a turkey farm, chances are that the bird in your oven took a spin in a shopping cart. Most of us don't think twice about using a shopping cart (except when it has a squeaky wheel).

On the streets, a shopping cart is called a "buggy." When I was homeless, I avoided "pushing a buggy" as long as I could. When that day finally came - when I had to get something from point A to Point B and had no other option but to use a shopping cart - I could no longer be in denial about my situation. I was homeless. As you can imagine, accepting that reality was devastating.

You would think that pushing a buggy on the street is as easy as it is in the grocery store parking lot. I assure you it's not. I had worked a week in a temp job and was able to pay for a SRO (single room occupancy hotel) in North Hollywood. When my money ran out they rolled me up and I had to take my stuff to my storage unit a few miles away. My first challenge was finding a cart. Then, I filled it up and started the long trek, but found going over the curbs extremely difficult. I manhandled the cart over each curb for about a half a mile and I was exhausted. It was very humiliating; people drove by laughing at me.

Right when I was about to give up I saw a mother across the street with her baby carriage and she turned the thing around to go over the curbs. Wow! Was it really that simple? Sure enough, on each street curb I turned my buggy around to backup over the curb. It worked and I was well on my way to becoming a seasoned homeless person.

That day was really a low point of my life. Maybe one of the lowest. I wish I could put into words how crushing it was to my sense of worth. Accepting that I was homeless meant that I had to also accept I may never get out of homelessness. But I was one of the lucky ones.

Thanksgiving is a time when we take a moment to be grateful. Today, I am grateful for people like you who care about the issue of homelessness. It was someone just like you that supported the organization that helped me get off the streets. It was someone just like you that clothed me and fed me until I was able to fend for myself. It was someone just like you that gave me a chance to dream again and a chance to become a normal, housed person again.

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, pushing a buggy, homeless, and hopeless. They need someone to give them a chance.

I don't know you, except for two things: you're sitting at a computer and you care about homelessness (there is no other possible explanation for you to be reading a blog about homeless issues than you have a heart for people). Even if you are not a religious person please take a moment today to pray in your own way for the invisible people out there who are sleeping in the streets, in their cars, or in a state of poverty that should not exist in this great country of ours.

I hope you and your family have a happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for keeping the conversation of homelessness and poverty going. Together we can affect change and make a difference in the world.

-Mark Horvath, Invisible People.