Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Eminem is Wrong.

I miss mix tapes. When I was a kid there was nothing more laborious, yet fulfilling, than loading a blank cassette tape into Deck A of my boom box while Deck B became host to The Cure, U2, Public Enemy, and The Pixies. Times have evolved and mix tapes have given way to iTunes playlists. The concept is the same...multiple songs by varied artists, but I guess I just miss the mechanics and the sound of actual fast-forwarding. Anyway, I was driving to work this morning and an Eminem song I've heard a thousand times came on and some of the lyrics seeped in and I found myself reexamining them. I apologize if you don't know who this artist is, or if you do not care for his music.My point is not to endorse him, but rather to provide some context for this blog.

You better lose yourself in the music
The moment, you own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

This is a common theme in literature, art, entertainment, and life, really. Make the best of what comes our way because we only get one chance in life to capitalize on the moment. If we somehow screw things up, we are doomed to a life of deserved misery. This seems inspirational and it has allowed Hallmark Television to exist by pumping out thousands of made-for-TV movies with Alyssa Milano and any combination of the surviving Golden Girls. But is this idea right? Should we only get one chance to defining moment that either ensnares or catapults us to greater things? I think we have all had moments where we wonder if life can get any better. But we also have times of catastrophic failure that we do not want to be defined by.

Most of our residents are at the lowest (or one of the lowest) points in their lives. For whatever reason, they find themselves at Samaritan House and in some stage of trying to piece their lives back together. They are often broken and despondent and most definitely feel that their 'opportunity' has passed them by. If we truly only have one chance in life to accomplish greatness, then perhaps they are correct. But I can't subscribe to this.

As we were working on our State of Homelessness in Kalispell report, I kept thinking that there had to be some type of redemptive process for the homeless. This attitude of 'one shot is all you get' prevails in too many sectors of society. There is a tendency to think the homeless deserve their circumstances because they failed at life. We lose patience with people we think have squandered opportunities that others have succeeded in. I see this attitude as detrimental to addressing the issue of homelessness in the Valley. We need to be a community that offers the services mentioned in previous blogs, but these services must be offered out of a restorative anticipation that people can turn their lives around and not viewed as a handout or platform for judgement.

We all have had help in some form or another. How quickly we can forget that. Life is not baseball and we should get more than 3 strikes till we're out.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I love this time of year... nothing screams Autumn like constant political bombardment from pundits and lobbyists and Super PACs. Its enough to make Charlie Brown crawl inside the Great Pumpkin and seal himself off from the rest of the world for a few months. Everyone is in the promising mood and  the number of election signs have finally surpassed roadside deer.

So, in climate of realpolitik where everyone is offering an answer to life, the universe, and everything else, Samaritan House is seeking to provide some suggestions that put the 'soul' into solutions. Here is a nonpartisan template on how  Kalispell can continue to make progress in addressing the needs of its homeless brothers and sisters. This is a continuation of what we have been discussing over the past few weeks.

Homelessness is not just in Kalispell. It is a national problem and, therefore, requires a national solution. Poverty must be addressed at the federal level to ensure the poor throughout the nation will receive equal benefits and services. Homelessness needs to be attacked nationally to deal with the structural problems that cause poverty locally.

Practical Steps in Addressing Homelessness in Kalispell

Analyze the characteristics of people who are or could potentially become homeless. Determine which essential services are most needed and the best way to deliver these services. Essential services can include assistance in obtaining benefits, getting housing, improving daily living skills, transportation, connecting with support groups, nutritional counseling, obtaining clothing, vocational help, child care, and education.

Design programs that put able adults or families into permanent housing as soon as possible. Provide job training for a minimum of one year after placement, and services such as mental health and substance abuse support, if needed. Create a community resource development strategy.

Provide education to homeless people on financial management, credit counseling, and overcoming bad credit histories. Educate and negotiate with landlords in order to prevent evictions.

Create housing trust funds and rental assistance programs, and provide access to funding for short-term needs such as moving expenses, security deposits, and paying rent arrears.

Ensure that people transitioning from a temporary shelter have housing, job training, transportation, mental and general health care, and case management.

Measure the outcomes of services provided to the homeless. Evaluate whether the programs meet their needs. Create a planning and evaluation process that assures input from the community and stakeholders as well as measurements of the progress of the program.

Hold frequent meetings with key players in program implementation such as funding sources, service providers, and skilled and diplomatic administrative staff in order to coordinate services. Make a long term commitment to initiatives to end homelessness.

Provide information on your organization's homeless initiatives to local government programs. Homeless people usually qualify for various types of public assistance, so public agencies must coordinate various services and refer clients to homeless programs. Encourage various agencies to create an inter-agency initiative to end homelessness.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


So, it's been a while since my last post and you have my sincerest apologies. Much has happened over the past two weeks and trying to condense it all into a few sentences is difficult. Anyway, here is a brief synopsis of the unfoldings at Samaritan House.

Last night (September 19) Samaritan House hosted a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce Unwind event and welcomed community members and other organizations at our Administration Center. Close to 150 people meandered their way through our large dining area, feasting upon selected dishes featured in our cookbook, Come To Our Table. Executive Director, Chris Krager, shared the heart behind Samaritan House and showed a gripping  video presentation made by one of the Flathead Valley's up and coming film makers.

We also unveiled a report we have been diligently working on, called The State of Homelessness in Kalispell, Montana in 2012. This comprehensive report addresses the causes of homelessness specific to Kalispell while also presenting some practical information on how we, as a community, can address this issue. We have these reports at our Administration Center (1110 2nd Street West) if anyone is interested in stopping by and picking one up. Here is a brief excerpt from the introduction and soon I will post some more regarding the solutions.

The last thing this world needs is another list of problems without an offer of hope, which seems to be a fleeting idea these days. Sometimes even the best intentions can become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of problems facing us. This report attempts to provide more than a list of the issues regarding homelessness. We want to shine a light on this communal problem, but we also desire to offer some practical proposals. Homelessness is a social issue that affects everyone and requires both a personal and societal response.
As we begin a dialogue addressing the disease of homelessness in Kalispell, it would be beneficial to diagnose this epidemic for what it is: a social problem. Until we can come to terms with and then admit that homelessness is perpetuated by structures in society, we will simply be spinning our wheels with misinformation from a faulty platform. Homelessness has precursors and the pattern of a person’s homelessness reveals possible solutions indicating how we can intervene or reduce potential and future episodes.
We want to dispel some of the myths associated with Homelessness.  As a human, the only thing more devastating than allowing others to rob us of our dignity is when we forbid ourselves the opportunity to see ourselves in a dignified light. This happens when we construct a faulty ideal of what composes dignity based on the untruth of what dignity isn't. In other words, we let other people decide what is and isn't dignified and we contour our own values to accommodate them rather than stay true to what we believe. Dignity is lost before it was ever found because there is no standard of self respect. The stigmas attached to homelessness are the initial barriers to seeing the homeless as equal brothers and sisters.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Friend or Foe?

I recently came across some information that surprised me. I like it when this happens because it's always nice to realize that no matter how smart I think I am, there is always more to learn. Usually my wife and kids remind me of this, so it was especially comforting to expose my own ignorance regarding some work-related info all by myself! Ah, the joys of a lazy Sunday. And anyway, the Steelers don't play until later tonight so I had some time on my hands.

At Samaritan House we are working on a project that deals with addressing homelessness in Kalispell. This should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, what else would we be doing with our time? So, in researching this current (not yet released) project, I expected to evaluate different variations of the same information I usually come across. I was sifting through some of the causes and effects of homelessness in Kalispell when I discovered something that I didn't know: According to the Montana Homeless Survey from 201l, the leading cause of homelessness in Kalispell was displacement due to conflicts with friends or family. Loss of employment was the number two cause.

More people were homeless in the Valley as a result of having no place to go after they were somehow embroiled in a conflict where they were currently living. I was surprised because I surely thought economic issues would have been the highest but I double checked the figures and saw that I was reading them correctly. When a person encounters such a level of  hostility that they choose the streets over remaining in that situation, it says a great deal about the fragility of relationship and the necessity of a reliable support network. Conflict within a home can arise for any number of reasons. Substance or chemical abuse, domestic violence, criminal activity... The list is infinite. But for whatever reasons, whether they are legitimate or spurious, the leading cause of homelessness in Kalispell fell under this very category. 

In an ideal world friends and family would be able to support those in need without any entanglements. If a problem surfaces, the person in need could rely on those around him or her for an inexhaustible amount of time and resources. But the real world doesn't work this way. Many of us have a difficult enough time taking care of ourselves and those in our immediate lives without the added responsibility of others. So what happens when unforeseen circumstances propel others in need into our midst?

Even the kindest and most benevolent of people can run thin on patience or, more commonly, resources when they are forced to look after someone else. And even if the intention is to help, come hell or high water, it doesn't mean they are qualified to provide a long-term solution. So, the person receiving the help eventually wears out their welcome or the situation escalates into something no longer manageable, so they have no recourse but to leave, rendering them homeless.

Someone once said that, "knowledge is power," but I think, in this case, knowledge is nothing more than revelation. And what we do with this information is up to us.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Social Problem

Its Labor Day, so I thought it might be an appropriate time to pay homage to the American worker by discussing the importance of sustainable employment. For most of us, the mere fact that we are working signifies a stark contrast between ourselves and the homeless. No matter how difficult our situations become, our lives differ from our homeless brothers and sisters in many ways.

As we begin a dialogue discussing some solutions for addressing the disease of homelessness in Kalispell, it would be beneficial to diagnose this epidemic for what it is: a social problem. Until we can come to terms with and then admit that homelessness is perpetuated by structures in society, we will simply be spinning our wheels with misinformation from a faulty platform. Homelessness has precursors and the pattern of a person’s homelessness reveals possible solutions indicating how we can intervene or reduce potential and future episodes.

Those who are experiencing homelessness for the first time are usually stunned and immobilized by the ordeal. The American dream is not supposed to require Ambien so it can be avoided. There are many times when the episodically homeless become overwhelmed and slips into a catatonic state of denial or depression when all they might need is a basic remedy such as rental assistance, help negotiating with a landlord, or a referral to public benefits or services. The chronically homeless, however, are more likely to require considerably more support for sustained periods of time.

In Montana, there is a homeless survey that is helpful in deciphering the proportion of people displaying a particular pattern of homelessness. Nationally, some surveys indicate that close to a quarter of homeless people report being continuously homeless for at least five years, and about one-fourth say they have drifted in and out of homelessness numerous times. But after that, everyone else reports they are experiencing a first or second episode, which usually lasts less than a year, and in some cases, only a few weeks or months.

Information covering longer periods (one year) captures the plight of those experiencing short-term crises who escape homelessness as well as the additional people entering short-term homelessness.  The problem is that the recidivism rates are high and the hopeful exodus from homelessness ends up being a brief hiatus because the structures of society have not changed. People who weather these episodes tend to leave and return, while the chronically homeless remain without housing or services for the entire period.

One national commentary on the situation says, "By the end of the year, chronically homeless people will make up a smaller proportion of the homeless population during the year than at a single point in time. Conversely, those with very short spells will account for a higher proportion of the population over a year’s time than on any given day. The experience of the past 15 years indicates that the number of very poor people driven into homelessness for at least short periods has not diminished significantly. Families with children are still a large part of the mix. Over the past 15 years, the resources of the homeless service system, which gives people in desperate circumstances a place to go for help, have also increased. While essential, these services make visible and undeniable the severity of structural factors currently operating to produce homelessness."

Homelessness can not be addressed properly unless the structures perpetuating it change. But, how does this happen....?