Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Our hearts and thoughts are with those on the east coast who are enduring calamity and distress as a result of storm Sandy. I was up a great deal last night watching the news and it the damage caused by this event will take years to recover from. Manhattan looked like the setting for an apocalyptic film. I kept waiting for the zombies to roll out.

The loss of life and property will continue to mount as people evacuate the city and are forced to leave behind parts of their lives that they may never get back. I spent some time at Ground Zero shortly after the September 11th attack and was overcome by the resilience and determination of so many people I met and worked with. What is unfolding right now will met head-on and I do not doubt the outcome from Sandy will be no different. It will be difficult but people will do what it takes to rebuild their lives. Many people went to hotels farther out of the city while others have abdicated their homes to stay with friends or families. Others are confined to, and reliant upon, emergency shelters.

But there is also a demographic that is seldom reported on. According to the 2012 New York City Department of Homeless Services, there were 3,262 unsheltered people living on the streets in New York City. While we do not typically attach a home to the homeless, it is important to remember that these individuals were also caught up in the malaise. Our thoughts are with them and their families, as well.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Half the Battle?

When I was a kid there was a popular cartoon that had a specific way it ended each episode. One of the main protagonists would offer up a quick (and very self-evident) observation while a befuddled child would stand there, amazed, as the following phrase was uttered, "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle." After hearing this life-altering revelation, I would finish my breakfast and amble outside to face the day armed with this secret knowledge straight from the lotus blossom.

Fast forward a few (okay...I'm being generous)  years later and I still am intrigued by the role knowledge and information plays in our lives. I saw the movie Argo this weekend and, because it is based on real events, I knew what was going to happen and how the tale would end. Regardless of what I knew, I still found myself becoming very tense while viewing situations in which I knew the inevitable outcome. While knowing the result might have been half the battle, I still grew uneasy. On the drive home I was thinking about how absurd it was that I allowed my self to become so unhinged at certain moments.

For the past three days I have been trying to reconcile the difference between whether knowing something is going to happen makes it easier when said event actually happens. It makes sense that if we are aware of how certain events will unfold, we can feel better prepared  for the outcome. This works great in Hollywood where swell looking people with impeccable hairlines and winning smiles can project snappy cliches that inspire the audience to cheer out loud and applaud (if you saw Rocky IV...the one with the Russian... this makes sense). But what about what transpires in real life? What about when the script involved is the one we write every day?

I knew it would be cold today and some people would be sleeping outside. In this case, knowing seemed to have a defeatist quality. It is depressing to understand that not everyone has housing. In this instance just knowing something does very little. I know the weather is steadily on the downward plunge so the question now becomes how do I apply this knowledge in a way that is helpful? Knowing something is neither helpful nor harmful unless that knowledge is either applied or ignored. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of generosity I have seen from many of our blog readers. You have moved from 'knowing what to do' to 'doing what is beneficial.' And for that, Samaritan House is thankful. The homeless of Kalispell is thankful.

We are currently collecting coats, sleeping bags, blankets, wool socks, boots, and any other items that can help keep a person warm as October passes the baton to November. So many of you have called to volunteer and we are appreciative of how you have responded to what is going on. If you don't have the time to physically help, then please remember that any donation (material or financial) is tax deductible and will be greatly appreciated. Lastly, if anyone is interested in helping out with Thanksgiving dinner, please feel free to drop us a line.

Knowing that we have the support of the community is more than half the battle. It feels like we can see the end of the war.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Cost of Homelessness

"Homelessness is a multi layered issue." 

This is a sentiment that has been echoed more than a few times in this blog. What we see on the surface, the people, is merely one representation of what it means to be homeless. Lately, I have been focusing a great deal on the various ramifications of homelessness to the individual who is caught up in this cycle. There are health and safety concerns as well and issues of mental well being and emotional aspects that can be debilitating. The physical problems presented can be overwhelming and crippling on their own.

I have also brought up some social qualifiers that point out homelessness is not just an individual problem and that society bears some responsibility for creating certain conditions that perpetuate poverty and homelessness. It is true that poor decisions can lead to poverty and homelessness, but more often than not, a person ends up homeless as a result of conditions beyond their control. So, if this is a communal problem, then what is the actual cost to a community when homelessness is not addressed adequately? If we peel back the layers of the onion, what will we find? After doing some research, I found a few interesting tidbits conveying the economic cost of homelessness on society.

A recent study conducted by the Partnership to End Long Term Homelessness reported that 150,000 chronically homeless people in the US costs nearly $11 billion per year in public funds. If these individuals could be permanently housed, the expense would drop to $7.8 billion. The New York Coalition for the Homeless estimates that the cost of permanently housing a person can be as little as $12,500 a year. Currently, there are only a few permanent residency projects across the US. Samaritan House is doing its part in the community by offering affordable permanent housing. Besides offering a competent Veteran's program and emergency temporary shelter, we are doing what we can to alleviate the financial burden of homelessness in Kalispell.

So much of what we do is hidden from the public eye. Sometimes we have a fundraiser or participate in a coordinated effort to accomplish something with other social services providers. Our case managers and administrative staff work tirelessly to coordinate and facilitate our residents so they can receive lost benefits or find what is missing to help them reintegrate into society. Our shelter workers provide continuous care and perform the day to day duties that no one ever sees but everyone always needs. It is a team effort and everyone plays a part and operates within a certain role.

But our goal is to do more than just assist the people who come to us for help. We want them to be able to turn their lives around and break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, but our main objective is to see them housed in some capacity. To end homelessness requires a solution that involves providing housing. People often ask what we, at Samaritan House, do. The answer usually depends on the day and even the hour, at times! 

But, one thing remains paramount to our role in the community. We try to cut the cost of money spent on services that could be helped by providing affordable housing. This is just one of the ways we are trying to do our part.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thank You!

Separating life into different compartments is easy for some people while others find it next to impossible. We go about our days wearing a million different hats...parent, son or daughter, spouse, employee, lion tamer... Okay, that last one is really cool and I've yet to meet one so I am throwing it out there. My point is many of us let certain aspects of our life drift into other areas. We might be thinking of a report that is due while we're at our child's soccer practice. Maybe the drama at work never really fully rescinds as we settle down to watch some TV or read a book. Work and play and hobbies all hover around our periphery and melt into one big entangled existence.

I've spoken to many of our Samaritan House staff and it is safe to conclude that much of what we see and deal with on a daily basis is hard to leave at work. Especially when it comes to homelessness and children. For me, it is one of the most heartbreaking ideas that any child would be faced with being homeless. Think back to your childhood and remember how life was crazy enough if you were part of a family that loved you, cared for you, and supported you. Some of us had an upbringing that was less than ideal and provided its own unique hardships. Now imagine what it must feel like to be a homeless 8 year old celebrating your birthday in a shelter. Not something most of us encountered.

A while ago I wrote a blog asking people to consider sending money that was specifically earmarked for children's birthdays. Someone sent in $25 and we were able to help a mother purchase a few things for her child. Thank you so much to the individual who helped us out. Because of your generosity, a young child was able to receive some presents on their birthday.

Right now we have 9 kids at Samaritan House and I am making another appeal for anyone interested in sending a specifically marked donation just for birthdays. I am not asking for a certain amount and I am thankful that our readers have been so generous in the past with various things we have asked for. While its never totally possible to leave our work at home, some nights we go to sleep a bit easier knowing we have made a tangible difference in a child's life in a very simple way.

Our address is:
124 9th Ave West

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy WHD!!!!

Yes, it is that time of year once again... I know it seems like only yesterday that we celebrated the last one of these. Have 365 days really peeled off the calendar so quickly? I feel like I just took down all the banners and streamers and cleaned the Chex Mix out from my couch cushions. We live in a society that likes to commemorate everything and I am almost embarrassed about the amount of coverage today has received. Can everyone say, "media over saturation!"

The traffic was so congested this morning (probably because the city was getting ready for the parade) that I almost turned around and drove home. I know its a bit sacrilegious to get angry on such a hallowed and important day, but I'm only human. I calmed my inner hulk by relaxing and reflecting on the previous WHD celebrations I've attended. Each generation has a few moments that stand out to them... those instances when you remember exactly what you were doing when something monumental occurred. Doesn't this sum up last year's WHD for many of us?

So, as much as I would like to stay on here and nerd-it-up by writing a long blog, I have places to go and people to celebrate with. My time is short this morning because I refuse to let this office desk rob me of one more moment of World Homeless Day, 2012. Thanks for doing your part to remember the homeless on this day. I know you have donations to make and people to reach out to, so I will let you go on with your day.

Tomorrow we can all go back to our regular lives!

For more information on National World Homeless Day:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Semantics of Homelessness

Recently I had a conversation with a person I respect very much and I raised the idea of homelessness as a disease. I was referring to the notion that being homeless transcended the dictionary definition of this word but my friend wouldn't accept it as a valid description. We argued for a while and came to the shared conclusion that, while disease might be a bit edgy and unnerving, homelessness might better be characterized as a disability. I think they simply wanted to end the conversation with me (this happens a lot) so they feigned agreement and slipped out the back door.

But I thought about it a bit longer and I think I was wrong. Homelessness is not so much a disability as it is a disabler. It disarms people on multiple levels. It steals dignity and self respect as much as it kills hope and presents tangible physical difficulties. If a person is caught in its clutches long enough it does disable them from functioning in society as well as in isolation. It is the great segregator as much as it forces people together to try and cope with a life of communal dependence. There are official definitions and classifications of homelessness that would cure an insomniac, but the more we try to capture it with a definition, the more it seeps out of our neatly constructed box and becomes an 8 year old living under the bridge with her mom. 

Words can't feel when the temperature dips below freezing.

So, as autumn begins its methodical descent into early winter, here are some conditions that many of our homeless brothers and sisters face. We can haggle over definitions and terms and the arrangement of letters that make us feel more comfortable, but I also ask that we remember that the effects of homelessness on a person are much more than a case of semantics.

Cold Injury
This is especially important in the northwestern United States and Canada and is the result of being without proper protection from the cold.

Cardio-Respiratory diseases
Many suffer from upper respiratory problems or chronic physical illnesses such as coronary artery disease or high blood pressure.

TB is highly infectious and common among those in shelters and in the streets. The rate of TB among homeless people is at least a hundred times greater than the average for the general population.

Skin diseases
Homeless people are predisposed to skin problems and edema resulting from malnourishment, poor circulation, ill-fitting shoes, cuts and dirty clothing.

Nutritional deficiencies
Because of poor nutrition and lack of care, a high percentage of homeless persons have dental problems and suffer from malnourishment, which increases the risk of infectious diseases and gastrointestinal disorders.

Sleep deprivation. 
For most people sleeping is difficult in the noisy atmosphere of shelters. Sleep disorders cause irritability, apathy and behavioral impairment. Children are especially affected.

Health problems of children and youths
Children in emergency shelters have emotional and developmental difficulties and most are unable to do well in school. These children have a rate of chronic disease twice as high as that of their more stable peers. They can suffer from upper respiratory infections, traumas and skin disorders, lice infestation, chronic problems with eyes, ears and teeth, along with malnutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, genito-urinary difficulties and sexually transmitted diseases.

Mental Illness
There are evident links among homelessness, mental health and public policies relating to the care or mentally ill people. It is generally accepted that about one third of all homeless people have serious and chronic forms of mental illness. Half of them experience hopelessness and despair because of their conditions and one in six attempt suicide.

Physical and sexual assault
Life on the streets is violent. Physical assaults and muggings are common, and these attacks precipitate health problems. Women and children are especially vulnerable. The rate of sexual assaults to homeless women is twenty times higher that for women in general.

Drug dependency
Between 10 and 15% of homeless males abuse drugs and among them there is a high occurrence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, venereal disease, skin ailments, bruises, lacerations and injuries resulting from violence.

*Some information courtesy of National Coalition for the Homeless

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Shortened Days

I love England. It's a quirky little place where they speak with all sorts of wonderful accents and I can throw a stone in any direction and hit a shoppe that sells fish and chips. I've spent  some time there and have family there, as well. Great music and history and all sorts of other reasons for me to enjoy our British friends across the pond and be thankful for their existence. I will forgive them for the Spice Girls because they also give us Everton Football (soccer, for the Yanks reading this).

This morning I was thankful for England for a different reason. I read a report from a British university in Sheffield that stated the average homeless person in the United Kingdom has a lifespan of 30 years less than a housed person. This prompted me to do some investigation of American homelessness and I found some staggering numbers. It's hard to get concrete numbers because different studies and surveys produce varied answers, but I averaged a few sources and this is what I discovered:

I averaged men and women together, and a conservative estimate is that a homeless person in America has a life span of 54 years. The life expectancy of a housed American is roughly 77 years. I'm not a mathematician but I think that adds up to more than two decades of life for the housed. Think about that for a minute. I usually like to elaborate on an idea or offer some commentary, but I'm going to stop now because I  feel this merits a moment of silence.

...actually 23 years worth.