Thursday, December 18, 2014

Homeless Veterans

Every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities across the country do a one-night count of its sheltered homeless population, and every other year requires that communities conduct a count of the unsheltered population.

The idea is to figure out where homelessness is going up and where it’s going down. This gives us a sense which communities are most effective in fighting homelessness, as well as where we should target our resources in order to make the biggest impact. The count includes data on a variety of subpopulations, including adults, youth, families, and veterans.

This country is an incredible place to live, largely, because of the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans. Samaritan House is proud of its programs dedicated to housing and assisting Montana's veterans. Here’s a quick a look at what the recently released 2014 data says about trends in veteran homelessness, nationally.

On a single night in January 2014, nearly 50,000 veterans were homeless. That’s about 9 percent of the total homeless population.

From 2013 to 2014, the number of homeless veterans decreased nationally by 10.5 percent, with 28 states reducing their total veteran populations.

The national rate of veteran homelessness decreased: in 2013, there were 27.3 homeless veterans for every 10,000 veterans; in 2014, there were 25.5 homeless veterans for every 10,000 veterans. The decrease in homeless veterans was the largest decrease of any subpopulation counted!

In 2014, 36 percent of all homeless veterans were unsheltered, meaning they were sleeping in a place unfit for human habitation (such as on the street or in an abandoned building). Because the national rate of unsheltered homelessness is 31 percent, that means that homeless veterans tend to be unsheltered more frequently than the general homeless population.

As America pushes forward in the effort to end veteran homelessness, each state must play a role. According to the Montana Homeless Survey, there were approximately 2,396 homeless veterans (and families) on the 2013 point-in-time survey. This number is representative of the entire state, from Glacier to Wibeaux. And while we hope to see a complete and total end to veteran homelessness, we understand that the process will take time.

Thank you for partnering with us as we take this challenge. Every donation and contribution you make is helpful and appreciated. Please help us give back to those who have already given so much to this country and our state.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Working Toward a Goal

2014 is living on borrowed time. As this year fades into the next, many of us begin to reflect on what has happen in our lives and what we want to change. Resolutions take center stage as we think about how to live differently; how to improve our situations. Something very important to us, at Samaritan House, is making sure hunger does not keep a crippling grasp of Montanans.

In 2013, 5 percent of households served by Feeding America programs, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, were homeless, and 27 percent of households served by Feeding America’s meal programs—such as kitchens and shelters—were homeless. The same year, The United States Conference of Mayors’ Hunger and Homelessness Survey found that 9 percent of all people who accessed food assistance in 25 cities across the country were homeless.

These figures might give you the impression that not very many homeless people receive food assistance, but consider this: less than 1 percent (0.19 percent to be precise) of all people in America is homeless, according to the 2014 Point-in-Time-Count. That means that the homeless population is drastically overrepresented among people who access food assistance.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that people who are homeless also tend to be hungry. According to the 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Survey and the National Coalition for the Homeless, many of the risk factors for hunger are the same as those that contribute to homelessness:

Poverty
Unemployment
High cost of housing
Low wages
Medical or health care costs

In other words, homelessness and hunger often go hand-in-hand. So, while it is important to remember during the holidays that many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it’s just as important to remember this year-round. Neither homelessness nor hunger are seasonal.

Want to help alleviate hunger for members of this community. This becomes a reality when people people donate and stand beside us. We appreciate all manner of donations and there is still plenty of time to contribute this year. Both housing and food are necessities for all people, and we must work together to continue fighting to end homelessness and hunger.

-thanks to National Alliance to end Homelessness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Power of Java

I was watching NBC's "The Voice" a few nights ago while kicking around a few ideas for the blog. First... Don't judge me. Inspiration comes from the the craziest places and who cares if I pretend that Pharrell, Blake, and I are best friends. Anyway, back to my original point: inspiration.

After a while, I was ready to give up on this venture switch to ESPN (not for inspiration, though. I just needed a few basketball scores) as Carson Daly made an announcement catching my attention. A global coffee chain was hosting a contest and the prize was one free food or drink item every day for the next 30 years. Interesting. I did some research, found the menu for this business, and then extrapolated a few numbers. To give a larger sample size, I've listed the least and most expensive items. Oh, did I mention there would be 10 lucky winners?

A child's chocolate milk at $1 a day, every day for 30 years = $10,950.
If all ten winners ordered nothing but this item, the total would equal $109,500.

Several drinks were listed at $4.25. One of these, every day for 30 years = $46,537.50.
If the ten winners ordered only these items, the total would be $465,375.

As someone who has worked with nonprofits for a significant portion of my adult life, my first thought was either of those sums would make an incredible difference to any social service provider. Instead of fueling the coffee habits for a group of over-caffeinated hipsters, this money should be given to nobler causes impacting the lives of people in need. But then, after doing more research, I discovered this corporation annually gives millions of dollars to organizations across America. They are doing their part and have earned the right to spend their profits however they see fit.

My focus turned inward. Maybe I should stop waiting for large national corporations to save the day, and perhaps I could do more, myself.

Its easy to channel ire and righteous indignation at large companies because they are impersonal entities. But what if I examine my own (in)actions with that same searing introspection? Are there things in my own life I could do without in order to help others? I'm not talking about plunging head first into a life of total self-deprivation. I don't need to forsake all manner of material comforts. But maybe there are a few things I could scale back on while putting that cash towards other causes.

A few dollars here, and a couple cents there... If stashed away and saved over the duration of a month or year... Would certainly be a blessing to organizations who are constantly scrambling to raise money. Perhaps this is something you might consider and pledge toward Samaritan House. And while I can't promise you will ever win a contest that awards you several thousand coffees over the course of the next 3 decades, I promise you can save lives by skipping an occasional cup of joe every now and then.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rural Homelessness

Many people think of homelessness as an urban phenomenon because homeless people are greater in number and more visible in larger cities. If you've spent time in a major American city, it makes sense that the public perception of homelessness has an urban face.

We are in Montana, where the largest city has a little over 100,000 and Kalispell weighs in with around 20,000. We are not exactly known as an urban Mecca. The town of Ismay, in Custer County, had only 19 people at the 2010 census. And even though we lack large cities and massive metropolitan centers, homelessness is just as pervasive in rural areas not only here in Big Sky county, but in smaller communities around the country.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Geography of Homelessness report, there are approximately 14 homeless people on average for every 10,000 people in rural areas, compared with 29 homeless people out of every 10,000 in urban areas.

The same factors that contribute to urban homelessness also lead to rural homelessness. These are a lack of affordable housing and inadequate income, which can be difficult issues no matter where a person lives. Scarcity of affordable places to live combined with wages lower than what are needed to survive are not exclusive to larger cities and can lead to rural homelessness. But there are added problems facing people in small cities and towns that city-dwellers are not faced with.

Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of rural homelessness is access to services. Unlike in urban areas, many rural homeless assistance systems lack the infrastructure to provide quick, comprehensive care to those experiencing homelessness. Reasons for this difference abound, including lack of available affordable housing, limited transportation methods, and the tendency for federal programs to focus on urban areas. Per population, rural areas also tend to have higher rates of poverty, only compounding the risk of becoming and staying homeless in those areas.

In other words, the isolated nature of many Montana communities make it difficult to recover from homelessness. We are doing our best at Samaritan House to use the resources at our disposal in Flathead County, which is one of the larger populated areas in the state. Some of our residents come from smaller towns in the Northwest and moving to our area was a step in their process for escaping homelessness. With your help and donations, we can assist these individuals and families who are doing their best to improve their situation.

Statistics and information courtesy of National Alliance to End Homelessness and Geonames.org

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Turkeys and Firetrucks

A few days before Thanksgiving, I took a team of middle schoolers to a volunteer fire department to help the local Auxiliary committee assemble baskets of donated food. The goal was to spend a few hours sorting the food into boxes that would be delivered to families to use for Thanksgiving dinner. Please be advised that taking a group of 11-14 year olds ANYWHERE is not for the faint of heart and should be done only with extreme caution.

After I finagled all the phones and personal tablets, the next step was to split the kids into groups based not upon maximum work output as much as they were designed to keep them from physically injuring themselves or others. But, I can't complain too much because every one of these students had volunteered and happily agreed to help out on one of their days off. Apparently, they found something more worthwhile than Call of Duty or Minecraft.

First, we unloaded the food from fire trucks before unpacking everything onto several tables. Everyone was boisterous and youthful energy chimed through the firehall. Yeah, basically it was really loud. The kids were laughing and joking and genuinely enthused to be helping people they would never meet. It was very refreshing to watch them work because they hadn't figured out that helping others must be a sobering and somber experience. These kids actually had the audacity to enjoy themselves while they crammed boxes and containers into baskets.

Eventually, we finished and and the parents began arriving to collect their kids. While waiting, I had an opportunity to talk to the students and get some feedback. Most of the kids found an old soccer ball and an impromptu game broke out in the parking lot. But while the hilarity and good times ensued, I spoke with one young lady who opted out of soccer in favor of spending some long-lost quality time with her phone. She intermittently shared her experience and typed a million miles an hour as I asked her why she wanted to help.

After a few seconds, she lowered her hands (even the one with the phone seemingly welded to it) and looked up at me. In the most "matter of fact" way, she answered me in a tone that told me I must have asked the dumbest question imaginable. With a tenderness and sympathy reserved for most senile people, she summed up her motive in a simple sentence:

"I wanted to do this because it was the right thing to do."

From the mouth of babes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

GivingTuesday

Every year a we find cause to celebrate and hashtag more things.

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. This day stems the tide of shopping and aims to help others by donating. All over the world, people will be giving to nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving their communities, and we would be humbled and appreciative if you would consider becoming part of this worldwide movement of charity and kindness.

It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. At Samaritan House, we rely heavily upon donations and the generous financial contributions of the community. As the end of the year approaches, it is definitely NOT TOO LATE for you to contribute financially to our cause. As the end of the year approaches, financial donations are more important than ever for our operation.

Many of you hosted Thanksgiving dinners and brunches and football-viewing parties for others. These events take a considerable amount of planning and resources and financial considerations. And while your cousin Robert might seemingly appear out of nowhere to feast on your giblets and lounge on your sofa, the food you provided came at a calculated cost. Now, imagine stretching your dinner over 365 days and instead of just cousin Robert, the entire city of Kalispell shows up.

This year we housed over 900 people and served close to 32,000 meals.

It is a nonstop challenge to raise money and every dollar helps. Please consider playing a role in saving the lives of others by providing assistance and donating. Contributions are tax-deductible and will be used to combat homelessness by allowing us to continually serve the Flathead Valley's homeless population by providing food and housing.

Thank you so much for everything you do for us and we are blessed to be in a community that shares our common goals of addressing homelessness while providing dignity to those who need assistance. But we cannot do this alone and are relying on your help. If you would like to donate, please call our office for more information or just drop by. Either way, you can help make a difference in the lives of individuals and families you will never meet, but who need help.

Let us make GivingTuesday a day that will change the course of other people's lives forever. Thank you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Mornings With Sheryl Crow

Bleary-eyed, I plopped into my car this morning. Routine has an unassuming way of displacing motivation. I was about to turn the ignition over and make the short trek to work, just like every other Monday. Thanksgiving will be here in few days and sometimes I feel like I have nothing to write that would be even remotely festive.

But then, just as all all hope was abandoning me and as I was ready to resign myself to a fruitless and unproductive morning, Sheryl Crow came on the radio and saved my hide. As I was struggling to invent some Thanksgiving inspiration, a line from her song graced my vehicle and planted itself in my brain. My biggest fear was that I would forget the words or mess them up before I arrived at my desk.

If that happens, then this entire blog takes an entirely different turn and might end up being a hostile barb toward Lance Armstrong. You see, I do do not have the best short-term memory and while I drove the legal speed limit the rest of the way to work, I kept mumbling the lyrics over and over with devout repition. I would not allow stoplights nor railroad crossings to rob me of this idea!

"It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got."

Thanks, Sheryl.

This short, but powerful line summed up everything I wanted to day but lacked the ability to produce. As Thanksgiving hovers right on our doorstep, this is the sentiment I would like to embody not just for the day, but for the rest of my life. Wanting what I have is the definition of gratitude.

It is so easy to look outside our home, neighborhood, and zip code and desire the life or possessions of others. But am I able to find contentment with what I have? Have I the ability to look squarely upon my own circumstances and find the grace to accept and applaud what I have collected over the years? If I can, Thanksgiving evolves from an event to a lifestyle. There will always be people who have more (and less) than I have. And while it is fine and dandy to want to improve my situation, that improvement should not be done at the expense of gratitude.

So, this Thanksgiving, please look around and count the blessings you do have. I promise they are there if you just take inventory of what you have rather than longing for what you don't.

On behalf of Samaritan House, please have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.