Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Importance of Adaptation

My battery is nearly depleted. I'm frantically punching the keys to produce a few lines before my screen goes black and ends my time. The little icon in the upper corner of my screen is straddling the line between solidity and blinking. Any second it might turn red to warn me that I'm in single digits. What an inopportune time for me to take a minute or two and reminisce about the good 'ol days when all my writing originated on a Brother 3000 Word Processor with a pop-up screen and a floppy disc.

I suppose I could have drawn from a thousand memories to make an analogy about how quickly time passes and we must deal with deal with change. For some reason it seems appropriate to stick with this one. I love writing and the evolution of this process has forced me adapt to the technology involved and accept that nostalgia has been replaced with necessity. Fortunately, I have been afforded the opportunities and abilities to change with the times and keep current with the trends in this field. Writing on my tablet is now my default setting and is as normal and comfortable as the huge PCs I hid behind in the 1990s.

According to my battery, I now have 8% to convey my point.

Adapting to ever-changing technology is difficult for many of the elderly homeless. While many of us have the advantage of taking classes or utilizing on the job training, this is not the case for people who live a transient or unsettled existence. A lack of education proves difficult to overcome because they lack the very basic skills needed to even apply for educational opportunities. It is a horrific experience when a person feels so far behind normal, daily trends that they give up and withdraw from trying to find a career and settle for a job.

And while I believe honest work is noble and any legal means of making money contributes to society, many elderly homeless must settle for low-paying jobs because they are intimidated by technology and don't believe they possess the ability to assimilate into a contemporary workforce.

... 4% left.

It is important for the elderly to receive adequate training so they can improve their chances to find work that will allow them to make enough to do more than merely survive. It is important for our elderly to be able to change with the times and not have to settle for jobs that do not put them in positions to succeed and flourish.

Just because I'm running out of time doesn't mean they have to.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Last Best Place

Montana is an amazing place. The lure of the Treasure State beckons anyone willing to work hard in order to earn a well-deserved amount of recreation. We have a history rooted in progressive ideas and blue-collar determination. For many, Montana has been a place to escape other environments, while others flock here looking for inclusive communities to fill a longing in their lives. Big Sky country is territorially massive, yet personally intimate.

Lately, I have noticed Montana has garnered quite a national following due to quite a few television shows. There have been reality show winners, bounty hunters, zombie hunters, mountain men, doomsday preppers, and restaurant makeovers all making their respective cases to entertain and inform the rest of the country about life in Montana. Dare we say that a state once lauded for seclusion and privacy has become a trendy piece of the national Americana pie?

The Last Best Place is morphing into the First Destination Place and I think we have an amazing opportunity to showcase our tenacity toward eliminating homelessness. And Kalispell has an excellent forum to lead this charge. As the homeless make their way into the Flathead Valley and settle in before winter settles upon us, Samaritan House does all it can to help be as prepared as possible. There are fewer things as potentially brutal as a harsh Montana winter night so we welcome all donations that will help us equip our residents and those who are merely passing through and need a place to stay for a while due to unforeseen circumstances.

We are continually humbled by the generosity of this community and we appreciate every donation that enables us to keep the lights and heat on. We are thankful for all the contributions allowing us to put food on the table. As temperatures slowly begin to drop and each night feels a little cooler than the one before, we are thankful for what Montanans truly are.

After the cameras have turned off and the television producers wrap up their final shoots of the season, the heart of this state continues to shine. In situations of true need and dire circumstances, we can count on each other for help. Thank you for all you do for Samaritan House.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Open For Business

Advertising is a tricky game. We live in a society where businesses and firms do all they can to wrestle sales away from the competition. What separates the really great companies from others is an ability to create a desire for a product and then wrap it in a catchy slogan or memorable jingle. Something that gets caught in our head and simply will not go away no matter how badly we try to forget it. An important goal in marketing is to show others they need what you have.

Recently, I was driving through a city (which shall remain nameless but could literally be Anywhere, USA) when I noticed a building with 13 enormous letters plastered to the front. Advertising, right? If a business is going to mount 2 large words across the front of its building, it should entice passer-byers to stop and check it out.

So I did.

Upon entering, I immediately realized I was the victim of a classic bait-and-switch operation and what was unfolding in front of me was nothing like the advertised slogan outside. My expectations were not met and if I had paid an entrance fee, I would have demanded it back. There were quite a few people milling around, talking to the employees, but no one else seemed as indignant as I was. They were obviously tricked into stopping by and needed someone of my ilk to show them they had been bamboozled.

After several failed attempts at starting conversations, I grew weary because no one was paying attention to me. It was almost like they were ignoring me. What a lousy business model.

Eventually, I cornered one of the employees and began to direct my ire at him. I told him they could not slather that slogan across their building because it was misleading. I told him they were creating false expectations. I told him they were promising something that was not realistic and people deserved better than to arrive and have their dreams crushed. I painted such a logical and rational argument for my case that Lincoln and Douglas were both doing 360s in their respective graves, applauding my efforts.

I was the champion of the people that afternoon and there was certainly no way the employee could squirm his way out of my grasp. I looked forward to the foolishness of his impending response. But then he explained something that floored me.

The slogan, he said, applied to the employees more than those who came inside. It was the people working there who could not escape the immeasurable grasp of the motto. The very patrons who showed up because of the slogan often (and usually unintentionally) were the ones who advanced the company mantra. While the 13 large letters served as a beacon to attract people, it was the employees who benefited from their interaction with the public. The man went on to tell me quite a few stories about how his life had been changed simply because he worked there. He felt indebted to those coming in because those coming in enriched his life.

As I drove away a few hours later, the backwards slogan in my rear view mirror stated an old slogan that I now viewed with a fresh perspective:

Rescue Mission.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Labor of Days

Does it seem a bit odd to celebrate a day honoring labor by not working? And, extrapolating one absurd idea by piggybacking it onto a blog dedicated to the plight of many people who are historically unemployed, seems even stranger. Right?

Not so fast, my friend. In fact, Labor Day is the ideal day to remember those around us who are looking for work. The whole notion and history of this holiday screams redemption as it pays homage to some of the greatest American attributes: tenacity, morality, and a right to self-determination. This amazing day arose from the ashes of one of our darkest eras- the throes of an impersonal Industrial Revolution- that valued profit and economic wealth over human dignity, safety, and the right to make a fair wage.

In the late 1800s, most Americans worked 12-hour days for six or seven days in order to scrape together a meager living. And in spite of restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in textile mills, factories and coal mines across the country, eking out a fraction of what the adults made. Immigrants were also victim of a vicious labor structure that enslaved them once they began running up debts to company stores and tenement slumlords. In addition to these factors, workers also faced unsafe working conditions with few sanitary facilities or breaks.

After a series of reforms were finally made, built upon the backs of progressive agents, strikes, riots, and countless protests, change finally came and working conditions slowly improved as the beginning of the 20th century dawned. Things were far from perfect (and still are) but were heading in the right direction. All because people refused to accept a system that held them captive rather than providing financial freedom. And today we celebrate Labor Day as a reminder that we do not have to live in a world run by puppeteers who pull our strings and make us dance to their own symphonies. If we truly want to improve our situations, we have resources and access to tools to do so.

We can vote. We can look out for each other. We can chip away at the obstacles creating homelessness. We can present an opportunity for others to have a future based on what was accomplished in the past.

With high unemployment being a major contributing factor to homelessness in America, it is our hope that children born into cycles of homelessness can also rise above their environments. The right to a good education and proper nutrition is just the beginning of a world that does not have to be debilitating. College or career training must be a realistic hope and goal if future generations are to raise their own flags on their own Labor Days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Superheroes

When I was a kid, I loved reading comic books and the people I looked up to the most were fictional characters dedicated to saving the world. All sorts of (super)humans possessing all manner of powers. I would get lost in the stories and plots and no matter how hard I closed my eyes and attempted to wish their existence into reality, that world vaporized whenever I closed the book and I was rudely used back into the real world.

Trends come and go in cycles and the past few years have seen a major resurgence of the whole comic book hero genre. The silver screen is once more churning out reincarnated versions of old heroes and iconic figures are coming out of retirement to entertain old fans while captivating new ones. Movies offer us a form of escapism, a way to immerse ourselves into a different universe for a few hours. And superhero flicks allow us to imagine a world where evil is confronted by amazing (but often flawed) people who are doing their best to resolve difficult situations in less than 2 hours.

I think one of the defining moments when our adolescence becomes a little less childlike is when we stop believing in these types of heroes. Something changes in us when we admit that no one is going to ride in and save the day; Gotham is vulnerable and we are saddened by the memory of saviors who never really existed in the first place. We realize if this world is going to be saved then we are the ones who need to do it.

And doesn't that really make US the superheroes?

As I grew older, my heroes began to evolve into people who held much less glamorous roles. Wolverine was replaced by food bank workers and Spider-Man took a back seat to the volunteers at the homeless shelter. The men and women I know working in social services truly deserve the accolades I once lauded upon the characters from my comic books. They are heroes because they are affecting change in a world mired in a stagnant state. They don't wear capes or masks or have retractable claws, but they go to battle every day on behalf of people who need help.

And that is the gist of the superhero mythology, right? Seemingly normal people who take on monstrous tasks to assist others. In a way, all of us can take a turn or two at living this lifestyle. Whether we volunteer or donate money or simply fill a specific need we see in our community, we can truly change people's lives.

And that is a super thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Trauma

I am not a doctor. I've never played one on television and, if I'm honest, I didn't even particularly enjoy Doogie Howser when I was a kid. Most medical shows confused me with their barrage of technical and medical terms. The only time I ever really understood anything when I watched E.R. was when someone would manically shout, "STAT!" when they needed something immediately.

Recently, I was at a conference when the keynote speaker stated something that really caught my attention. He didn't bog his lecture down with tedious terminology and for that, I am thankful. He was talking about how trauma effects the brain's ability to make clear decisions. And even though he was speaking in an educational context, the application and connection to homelessness is relevant. Homelessness is an existence mired in trauma and stress. The very nature of a transient lifestyle demands instability as the one constant that can be expected.

Long periods of homelessness can wear down an individual's ability to assess life and make decisions that are beneficial. Rather than having the coping mechanisms that afford clarity of thought, constant stress can lead to an erosion of some of the brain's most important functions. It is easy to pass judgment on people who's situations make no sense to us. Many times we see chronically homeless men and women and wonder how they let themselves fall into such ruts.

But if we reexamine this attitude and take into account the amount of stress and trauma one might experience living a life of extended homelessness, perhaps we can find some empathy. Especially when we consider homeless children and the impact these factors can have toward debilitating their own decision-making. The cognitive ability of children is a fluid process and the brain requires the right conditions if it is going to develop properly. Poor nutrition and lack of sleep are two factors that can hinder a child's thought process, and by adding trauma or stress to the equation, many homeless children face an uphill battle.

Stability is just one tool that can contribute to a less stressful life for people children. Simple things like knowing there will be enough food for breakfast and money to cover rent and utilities can ease the mind and reduce the chaos. Our hope at Samaritan House is to have an environment conducive to playing a role that eliminates stress for all our residents. We do our best to move past clich├ęs and actually provide a place where people can regroup, refocus, and then relaunch back into society.

So, it seems all of us can play an integral role in helping others even if we have never been a doctor or even played one on TV.

Monday, August 18, 2014

School Daze

Throughout the annuls of time, there have been three words that most kids have dreaded more than any other. Three little words that have struck fear into the hearts and minds of children from New Mexico to Nepal; from Alabama to Algeria; from Kalispell to Kalamazoo:

Back. To. School.

We can argue how educational strategies have evolved over the years and how the intent, purpose, and function of schools have morphed. But no matter how and why the logistics and semantics change, it seems most kids are just not as excited as their parents when late August rolls around and they are hoarded back into classrooms for another 9-month term.

Kids don't like school because it limits their autonomy and freedom. It forces structure and demands they follow a regiment and schedule that they have been unlearning since the last bell rang in May. Just when they get the hang of 'doing nothing,' it is suddenly time to abdicate their summer thrones and march toward the gallows of Geometry and Social Studies. Now, to be fair, I will admit there are some kids who enjoy school and can't (secretly) wait for the summer to end so they can (secretly) hit the books again. But these children are the outliers and not the norm. I was NOT one of these kids.

Over the years, I've found that many homeless kids often look forward to school for the very reason other kids dread it. For children who are accustomed to the chaos and unpredictability of a homeless lifestyle, the stability and regiment of school offers comfort. For exactly 8 hours a day, these kids know they will have access to functioning restrooms, hot food, education, structure, companionship, and protection. Imagine a world where nothing is permanent and then insert a block of time where you could have access to mentorship and dignity. For some kids, 'back to school' means reemergence into society.

It is important to have good schools and teachers who care about more than their lesson plans. After-school programs can even extend opportunities to children who might not get the chance to participate in activities suck as sports or music or art. Schools become an instrumental part of the community because they can foster hope and a sense of purpose in children who have been been void of such sentiment. Going back to school for some kids is one of the greatest experiences of their life. Weird. I never would have imagined that a few years ago.

... Who knows what I will imagine a few years from now?