Tuesday, December 31, 2013

No Resolutions for 2014

Born in 1975, I am a child of the 90s.

In kindergarten I remember the Challenger exploding and I was in 9th grade when Mr. Gorbachev finally 'tore down that wall.' In the 5th grade I journeyed Back To The Future and the events of 9/11 are just as seared into my memory as the Cuban Missle Crisis was for my parents. I missed out on Boy Meets World because it fell into that awkward time zone between Seinfeld and Breaking Bad. Warrant and Bon Jovi mercifully ebbed into Pearl Jam and now I secretly listen to the Civil Wars.

I have no real affection for Wrecking Balls.

I have the privilege (?) of being alive in an eon where everything is connected and all my flesh-and-blood friends have other friends over the Internet whom I will never meet but sure spend a lot of time 'liking' each others photos of what they all ate for breakfast before they all posted the contents of that meal for the rest of the world to like, too.

Times change and while that is the understatement of the year, I'm not sure how many of us accept this fact while acknowledging that we change too. We have to. When I was a kid I never put much thought into living into the next century and now, 14 years deep, I can appreciate that while the world  is not the same place, I am not the same person. Like you, I've morphed and reacted to my environment. I have committed great acts of epic heroism and dastardly feats of cowardice. My life, to this point, is given meaning by my responses to what comes my way. We have all loved and lost and helped and hindered others. What we did yesterday counts only to a small degree if we refuse to live in today.

As this new year approaches, I am not going to ask you to make any resolutions. This is contrary to past New Years when I tried to inspire or effect change. And while resolutions can be instruments for good and positive outcomes... this year I'm scrapping the idea for myself. Instead of concentrating on one fixed goal or a single measurable result, I am going to pay more attention to the journey I take in order to improve this planet. I guess I'll focus less on the road map and more on the globe. I realize this will be messy and involve quite a U-turns and Dead Ends. But so what? I cannot be afraid to go new places and try things from a fresh perspective. Yesterday's solutions were great for yesterday.

But the clock just stuck midnight. Its a new day.

So, if 2014 is going to be a year where we truly help others, then it will certainly involve some unforeseen decisions and a capacity for vision that we've not yet experienced. This has potential to be an incredible year and it is our honor to embark on it together, with you. Samaritan House will never abandon convention and all the positive ways that have yielded such great results. But we will also stretch our hearts and minds and not be afraid to explore new and innovative methods that are new.

Here's to the next year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The In-between Days

Christmas can officially be seen making tracks in the rear view mirror and 2014 is still a few days away. Right now we're nestled in that purgatory state of the calendar as we stow away our Christmas sweaters and think of the resolutions we might start writing. I call these the 'In-between Days.' A brief and fleeting window of opportunity when we can make one final mad dash to do something epic before the calendar turns to a new picture. A time when we consciously make an effort to move forward with things we wish we would have done. We stop waiting.

Living with regret is a haunting feeling because there's always a sense of loss. That disquieting pang gnawing at our insides because we were afraid to do something. I see it in the eyes of our residents and in the hushed whispered when they recall a missed opportunity that escaped their grasp long ago. But regret is not limited to the homeless.

Too often we wait until January 1st to set things in motion. We take this week prior to New Years and shift into cruise control while we stare at the impending Resolution-Apocalypse. We drum our fingers and think pensively about how we are going to better our lives in just a few days. But why wait? Don't let these days slip away if you have something weighing on you. Do you need to make a phone call (INSTEAD of texting)? Is there a letter to be written or a conversation to be had? Don't wait.

Soon enough the in-between days will melt away and the rigors and routine of the new year will be upon us. And I would hate to think of anyone wasting these days waiting for an appointed time to effect change.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dream a Reality

There are many things in life we have no real opinion about. And while it is important to possess convictions and opinions, I don't fault people for quibbling over trivial things in life such as which pair of Christmas socks should be accessorized with what Christmas sweater for the office party.

But there are also things in our life that elicit passionate debate and responses. Cats or Griz, Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber? Or today's topic... Christmas carols. We love them or loathe them. We either jingle all the way home or we grab the reigns of that sleigh and hit Grandma going 90 miles an hour. I am in the former camp and if it means I need to turn in my "man card" so be it. I'm a sucker for Perry and Bing and Patsy.

Recently, I was listening to one of the many renditions of "I'll be Home for Christmas" and was struck by a particular lyric that I knew well but never took the time to really think about. Its the one that says," I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." While I have heard and even uttered this line (poorly, mind you) hundreds of times, the sadness and gravity of the situation had never dawned on me. This individual desired and longed for all the trappings and amenities of Christmas, but was never going to get back to their home. They were faced with carrying Christmas with them, internally, and had to rely on memories of past holidays to carry them through.

This describes so many of our residents. We spend our time with some of the most incredible people you could meet. Families, children, veterans... Each person with a story but more importantly, each person with a past. With memories. They can recall the smell of eggnog and holly. If they close their eyes long enough, they feel the heat from the fireplace and hear the tearing of wrapping paper. But now, as homeless people, they mostly rely on their dreams. The only way they can go home for Christmas is literally in their dreams.

We do our best to provide our residents with food, shelter, and dignity. One way this happens is by giving them presents on Christmas. We rely on the kindness and generosity of our friends in the community to help us fulfill this goal. If you find yourself wanting to help, please consider the items listed in the previous blog. Or, be creative and give something spawned from the creative recesses of your own kindness. It is Samaritan House's hope that we can provide new dreams for our residents. Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


So... Christmas is fast upon us and here is a brief list of items that would come in very handy at the shelter. Please take a second and look at this list and see if there are any items you might consider purchasing for Samaritan House. Each and every thing donated will be put extraordinary use to help bless our residents.

Chap stick: this might seem like a trival and little thing, but having chapped lips and spending a lot of time outside is not a pleasurable experience.

Shampoo: this item allows people to feel clean and provides a little dignity for anyone who is self-conscious. We take things like this for granted but not everyone does.

Conditioner: We've all seen Billy Madison so we know a person cannot have shampoo without conditioner!

Male and female toiletries: just the basics can go such a long way to make people feel human and respectable.

Small gifts for men and women: while the focus of the holidays transcends material possessions, we would be honored and thankful for any gifts donated to our adult residents. Sometimes this time of year is the saddest for our residents, so having something to unwrap is a literal blessing.

Stuffed animals: a tangible item that can be touched and cuddled and whispered to. We never really outgrow the need for contact and stuffed animals for adults and kids can go a long way.

Toys for children: being a homeless child is an experience that is inexplicable unless you've lived it. Please consider blessing someone you've never met for no other reason than they deserve a good moment or two.

Nail polish: this is so much fun and our young and older ladies love being able to spend time together being girly!

Thanks so much for your time. Call the shelter at 257-5801 for any questions or specific inquiries.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Samaritan House Christmas Challenge

So, here we are. A time of year where reflection and contemplation are valued as we look back over the past year and think about what has happened. As the holiday season looms on the horizon, its easy to kick back into cruise control and simply coast into 2014. I mean, we've all earned a little respite from the hustle and bustle and chaos of the year. Time to relax, right? Enjoy our friends and families and the 3,000 college football bowls about to begin.

Hmm... Sounds nice.

Or, what if we bucked conventional thought and ended the year with a flurry of activity? What if we fought aganist the logical and rational ideas of rest and relaxation and made ourselves very uncomfortable instead? For those interested, I would like to propose an idea absurd enough that it might just change the culture and social landscape of Kalispell. For lack of a better name, lets call it the Samaritan House Christmas Challenge. Here's how it works:

From now until the end of the year, do one thing every day that is inconvenient and a hassle and will cause you to wince. Do one thing every day that focuses on helping or blessing another person simply for the sake of it. Forget accolades and notoriety or being recognized as Philanthropist of The Year. Exhibit kindness because it the right thing to do. I won't tell you how or what this looks like. It can be anything from dropping off a donation to holding a door open so a few more people can walk through.

If this seems trite or silly or a waste, then I fear you have forgotten what it feels like to be the recipient of such an act of kindness that your whole day changes. We can change the course of people's lives by simply being kind. Performing such random acts of kindness might just inspire others to do the same. So, this is the challenge I propose. Lets end the year proactively, doing for others.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas on Minimum Wage

Lately, there have been a few stories in the national media chronicling food service workers and the low pay they receive. Some of the lowest paying jobs in America are tied to this industry. Over the years, I can recall many of our residents who found employment with various fast food restaurants around Kalispell, so this issue has a profound effect on those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

 In July, Forbes magazine interviewed Carman Iverson, a 28-year-old minimum-wage McDonald's worker in Kansas City, Missouri, who has four children.  Many people think finding any job is a cure for not being homeless, but the article detailed the utter impossibility of making ends meet on the wage, especially in an industry that limits workers' hours.

Taken from the interview:  Iverson said she started working in 2012 at $7.25 an hour, and makes $7.35 an hour now after Missouri adjusted the minimum wage. She makes between $400 and $600 a month. Her rent is $650 a month. When asked how she could pay her rent on those wages, she said she had a landlord who works with her. "I'm kind of on my last little leg, because I've been late on rent. I'm actually behind three months in rent.

"Sometimes I can pay it, sometimes I can't. I get paid twice a month, and both checks go to rent and the rest of it goes to utilities to the point where I don't have any money left to buy anything for my kids -- to buy them clothes, shoes or anything they need." She said she manages to feed her four children on $543 worth of food stamps a month.

Many single parents are in the same position as Iverson, living check to check and day to day. Without an accommodating landlord, she would likely be out on the streets. But what about the hundreds of thousands of tenants who are not shown such grace? Leniency with rent seems to be the exception rather than the rule. As the calendar turns toward Christmas, this time of year can be difficult for families attempting to balance rent, food, utilities, and presents for children on such a limited budget.

It is our hope that some of you would be willing to help out with Christmas at Samaritan House. If you are able, would you consider making a donation toward our residents or to help the shelter? As we are approaching the holiday season and end of the year, we will have a detailed list of items we need and ways you can help.

Thank you for everything!

Friday, December 6, 2013


Hello friends,

You may have heard that last month a boiler at the shelter broke down. This is a $4,100 repair. Luke Lautaret, a well known musician in the area, organized a fundraiser "jam" with nearly 50 local musicians in attendance to raise money for this expense

The Kalispell NBC affiliate KCFW did an article about the event. You can view the article here:


The Kalispell ABC FOX news will air an article about the fundraising effort later today, where you can see the Samaritan House and maybe even the actual boiler itself. Also, watch for more information in the Daily InterLake on Saturday, December 7th.

A gentleman has stepped forward offering to match any funds raised towards this expense. This very generous offer expires Monday morning December 9th.

Would you help spread the word, donate or even forward this email to someone that may be able to help?

You can donate online at: http://www.homelessintheflathead.com/

or via mail or in person at:
Samaritan House
124 9th Ave West
Kalispell, MT 59901
(406) 257-5801

Please be sure to designate your donation to  "Samaritan House Boiler Repair".

Thank you very much for helping Samaritan House provide a warm place for the people we serve. Your consideration is very appreciated.   
Chris Krager
Executive Director

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fence Sittin'

Earlier this week I was speaking to a group of 8th graders about the difference between rights and responsibilities. The context of the conversation centered around what should be done if a person is being bullied or discriminated against. I asked if they felt any compulsion to get involved if the situation didn't directly affect them. If another person was in danger, did they have a responsibility to step in and help, or did they have the right to remain uninvolved? It was a great conversation and it rabbit trailed off into a few other interesting directions.

Those who felt mandated to get involved based their belief on the idea that doing nothing is the same as approving of what was happening. If a person bares witness to an ignoble act and doesn't get involved, then that person might as well participate because they are endorsing it. Allowing injustice to unfold without stepping in was viewed as cowardly and even inhumane by some of the students.

I ratcheted up the conversation by implying that helping out might cause harm to the person getting involved, but the kids didn't care. They believed we are responsible for helping others even if there is a cost or price to pay personally. When people do resist helping others then the world is a less-safe and more hostile place. It is up to us to improve this situation by refusing to stand by and let others be harmed.

But this was not a unanimous decision and other students protested that we have a fundamental right to not put ourselves in harm's way. They made a case for self-preservation and argued there is nothing wrong when a person takes care of their own self. We are not bound to an ethos that makes us responsible for others, especially those who seem to put themselves into dangerous situations repeatedly. Our first and only priority is to make sure we are okay.

The best thing about spending time with kids is that it permits us to look back over our lives and reflect on our own beliefs. Nostalgia mixes with idealism and then we snap back to the glaring reality that those days are over and we seldom have the luxury to separate our lives into near boxes that give us clear cut answers to grown up problems.

I'll let you decide which side of the fence you are on in regard to this issue. One thing, for sure, is that sometimes it easier to live in a world where hypotheticals exist. Unfortunately, that is not our reality.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankfully Elementary!

Predictability is an interesting thing. Some people are driven insane by any sort of routine or situations void of intrigue or surprise. Others are comforted by knowing what to expect and what might be coming around the corner. I guess it depends on what type of person you are as to whether you like or tolerate predictability. This time of year begs for a "Happy Thanksgiving" blog. It makes sense. Its predictable.

Well... Here goes a new twist on being thankful.

The alphabet is one of the first things we learn in school. I can still picture my kindergarten classroom and the pictorial cut outs that illustrated each letter. There, hung neatly next to each other, was an apple, a boy, a cat, and a dog. Finally, our old friend the zebra brought the whole thing to a conclusion. So, in the spirit of continued education, here is another hieroglyphic tutorial that represents the alphabet according to the homeless.

A is for the avenue I follow back to the shelter.
B is the vitamin I don't get regularly.
C is for the carpentry job lost in the recession.
D is for the dishwashing job that replaced the carpentry job.
E is for an education to help improve this situation.
F is for a fire to warm my hands.
G is for the gloves that warm my hands when the fire dies.
H is for the hope that I cannot lose.
I is for the isolation that accompanies me.
J is for a jacket that belonged to 3 others before I got it.
K is for Kalispell.
L is for the last call that I no longer partake of.
M is for the map I carry with me all day.
N is for the no loitering sign reminding me of my free time.
O is for the optometrist I should have visited two months ago.
P is for the police officer who is just doing her job.
Q is for the quilt that reminds me of a better day.
R is for the rest stop where I can wash my face.
T is for the trails that dot my map.
U is for the umbrella tucked into my backpack.
V is for the vehicle I spent October living in.
W is for the water that sloshes in my canteen.
X is for the xenophobia still rampant, even in 2013.
Y is for the yogurt served with breakfast.
Z is for the zoning laws that tell me where I can and can't go.

... Now I know my ABC's, next time won't you sing with me?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Samaritan House Annual Raffle

Some traditions need to be put to rest and never resurrected. Having to watch the Detroit Lions play on Thanksgiving, shopping the day after Thanksgiving, and over eating on Thanksgiving are all events we can live without.

Fortunately, Samaritan House has an annual event that is worthy in it's cause and noble in it's efforts. It is our pleasure to announce our Annual Benefit Raffle. This year the drawing will be held on November  26 and, like always, winners do not have to be present to win because they will be notified. Here is some helpful information about how you can help Northwest Montana's only homeless shelter. You can pick up your tickets at our office located at 124 9th Avenue West in Kalispell, or by calling 257-5801 for more information. There will only be a limited amount of 130 tickets sold at $100.

Proceeds from the raffle will help feed and shelter more than 1200 adults and children in 2014. This is an amazing cause and it allows you to literally help play a part in changing people's lives for the better.  At the same time, you also will be entered into a drawing for the following prizes:

One grand prize of $2000
One prize of $1000
Two prizes of  $200
Eight prizes of $100

Thank you so much for your support!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hapless Halloween

His costume was an original and Halloween was his favorite time of year. It wasn't the beauty of the technicolor leaves or the abundance of candy dolled out to every passer-byer on the street. Usually he avoided large crowds and stayed out of the public's eye. Not on October 31st, though. On this night he would rub elbows with people who would normally avoid him. It was a type of coming out party where the debutants couldn't discriminate from the commoners because everyone embraced a secret identity behind costumes and masks. Kids and their parents plodded up and down the streets with bags in tow while he sat on a bench and smiled.

"Look mom," she said as they passed the man. "What kind of costume is that?"

He knew there was no malice in her question and if he had a mirror he would likely agree with her inquiry. He was wearing dusty and dirty cargo pants with a sweatshirt from a college he had never visited. The wool cap on his head covered matted curls that barely snuck out from underneath its blue fibers. His boots were well-worn and comfortable but looked odd because, while they were old, he had inserted new laces in them a few days prior and there was a bold contrast.

This was his costume; His ticket to blend in by hiding in plain sight.

Families walk by and nod approvingly while he sits silently composed on the bench. He finds it sadly ironic that if the very same people walked by him 24 hours later there would be a different response. The pleasantries and greetings would likely be replaced by silence and quickened steps. But for tonight he blends in and reflects that his life is a costume for others. Something they can slip on and off in between a cup of hot chocolate and some baked pumpkin seeds. Tomorrow he will wake up in the shelter still wearing the same costume while everyone else will have morphed back into bankers and teachers and mechanics.

In 364 days it will be his turn to blend in again.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Better Off (Not) Dead

Humans are sometimes overly dramatic and I think this fact is what separates us from the other animals kicking around this planet. When is the last time you saw an elephant overreact to anything? How often do ferrets freak out? Maybe we are a little more self-aware than the average sloth, but does that give us the right to perpetually turn molehills into mountains?

I recently overheard someone tell another person that their situation was so dire (it wasn't) that they would be better off dead (they wouldn't) than continue on, mired in their circumstance. We throw around phrases like that all the time (hence the drama never found in merecat colonies) without ever considering the gravity of the words we are using. Life is worth living. Life is valuable.

The reason I even bring all of this up is because domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness in Kalispell. Real people are put into really bad situations and they choose to leave instead of staying and allowing the violence (physical, verbal, or emotional) to continue. They survey the situation and decide that homelessness is better than death or serious injury. And the circumstances are ratcheted up exponentially if children are involved. Can you imagine intentionally walking toward homelessness because it was an improvement from your current situation?

Yet we whine like one of the Real Housepersons of Beverly Hills if our the grocers are out of Gluten-free espresso beans.

Many of our residents have been the victim of violence and they made the conscious effort to recognize the value of their own lives instead of succumbing to the grasp and cycle of violence. It is estimated that every 8 seconds a violent act is committed in America. Some of these acts involve moms and dads and kids and parents. Every day people make decisions to improve their lives by embracing a future that is far from stable or certain. When you help Samartian House, you are contributing to the lives and futures of people who, in spite of having few material possessions, recognize the value of life.

And I can think of nothing more inspiring to donate time, energy, or finances toward.

Monday, October 21, 2013

We're not in Kansas Anymore

There have been some amazing movie lines over the years. Little phrases that capture our attention and seem to sum up the greater narrative of the story. They often pepper our daily lives and seep into our consciousness without a second thought. We have favorite catchphrases we memorize and spout off for all types of certain situations.

Recently I was driving through one of Montana's larger towns. It was a place I was fairly unfamiliar with but trying to get a handle on. The scenery was different and the landscape was foreign from what I am used to in Kalispell. All I could think about was the iconic line from the Wizard of Oz; the one where Dorothy notices that everything has changed and she tells her dog that neither of them are "in Kansas anymore." Her entire world has morphed and is skewed from one comfort zone to another.

Then I wondered what it would be like to have a life that straddled two separate worlds. How would I respond if I were forced to exist in one world but everything around me was a constant reminder of a former life in which things were better? I would still be confronted by the scenery of life, but the colors and hues would be different. The shadows cast would be sadder and longer. It would be incredibly frustrating to plod through a version of life that didn't match the happiness or contentment of the memories from better times. A person might almost forget that the past was anything more than a dream.

I've had conversations with some of our residents that are similar to this. They have become so accustomed to their current circumstances they have no idea how to process their past into anything more than a dream. When they speak about their former lives they hint about things and make subtle references about what life was like. Sometimes I get the feeling they don't believe the past ever even happened. Its sad.

One of the reasons I appreciate Samaritan House so much is that the staff is committed to doing all they can to remind the residents that they don't have to continue living in their current state. Homelessness is not a condition, its a situation. Its not terminal and it can be reversed. Dorothy doesn't have to remain in Oz and she can get back to Kansas one day.

Its a process and it takes some work, but we strongly believe that creating a positive living environment for our residents implies not just helping them improve the present or anticipate the future, but also helping them recall those days that were so dear to them. Life doesn't have to be a dream.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sign of the Times

He sat there, legs crossed with a terrible, numbing chill seeping up his body. Wedged into the crux where the sidewalk and building intersected, he was maintaining just enough body heat to keep from visibly trembling. It was common knowledge that the Number One Rule in real estate was "Location, Location, Location," but this wasn't quite the case for him because he was hunkered down in the midst of a very fine zip code and it wasn't helping him. He sighed and mused to himself that there were probably different rules for different things.

The wind whipped around him in spurts as the sky reminded him that there would be no warmth coming from its direction. The leaves had all but abandoned their trees with the exception of a few stragglers that simply didn't want their time to end. Everybody's time eventually ends. The traffic slowed, sped up, stopped, and restarted in rhythmic patterns that were easily observed from his vantage point. The whole experience was nearly as predictable as the patterns of human behavior from the foot-traffic on the sidewalk: eyes cast downward, purses and bags clutched tightly, speed increased, then a sigh of relief once the person had passed him.

His tattered wool gloves grasped the sign he held in his lap. It was constructed from sturdy cardboard and the block letters were neatly arranged and easy to read from a fair distance away. The only thing more interesting than the signs held by the homeless are the messages broadcast from church marquees and often both boast the same forlorn message of hope in the midst of desperation. Both are used to make the passer-byer reexamine their beliefs and consider a course of action that induces uncomfortablity. But this man's sign differed from those marquess. There was no cup to passive-aggressively suggest that a donation should be dropped his way. There was no plea for a ticket or passage to the next area code. He wasn't a veteran and he hadn't run out of gas. His sign reached further than an individual request and it simply said:


Friday, October 11, 2013

First World Problems...

Ugh... I had to scrape my windows this morning before I left for work.
Seriously? I ordered a decaf double soy mocha. This only has one shot.
I messed my DVR up and only recorded the first hour of X Factor.
I have nothing to wear with these shoes.
We're missing the previews because we hit every red light on the way to the movies.
The Internet is down.
My leaf blower is outdated.
I can't decide if I like Google Chrome or not.
What do you mean they don't serve that on the menu anymore?
The Steelers haven't won a game this year.
My dog is having pups.
I have to suffer though this blog AGAIN!!!!

...well, I guess some things are worse than others.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Mission of the Vision

I am stuck.

For over two weeks I have been struggling to differentiate between a vision and mission statement. Fortunately, I don't have to do this as a solitary exercise and there is a very capable and talented group who are working on this project as well. The misery associate with words is that they often fail to capture the sentiment the author wishes to express. Again, I am stuck.

Typically, the idea of a vision encompasses a grand, overarching idea. It paints the big picture and seeks to inspire people others to join. The mission statement adapts the vision into small, manageable components that bring it to life. Things now move from theory to application and the cart takes its rightful place behind the horse. Writing statements of vision is easy because they are safe and grandiose and remain largely intellectual ideas. Anything can sound epic on paper.

The actual implementation of the vision... the mission statement... is what defines greatness in an organization or individual. Words are converted into actions and its more difficult to mask ineptitude. It is not possible to hide behind a mission statement because it requires action and accountability. I will admit that working on a statement of vision is much less scary that trying to carry out a mission statement. Some of us live in the visionary realm. We are bold at making predictions and announcements but moving past that gets uncomfortable. My hope is that I can live in the practical realm. It doesn't require patience or dedication to spout ideas, but working to fulfill those dreams is an entirely different matter.

At Samaritan House, we are practically and actively pursuing a mission statement that will help us arrive at solutions to ending homelessness in Kalispell instead of simply coming up with inspirational sayings and quotable mantras. We are dedicated to moving from the visionary to the missional. As we work together with various community members and and organizations, we are excited to be part of a grander solution to this communal problem of homelessness.

Maybe I'm not as stuck as I thought I was, after all.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Please Consider the Following...

It's getting colder. As much as I would love to pretend winter is not on its way, it will do no good. The weather is not bound to some pledge or oath to be accommodating. Often, winters in the Treasure State are a reminder that we can only react and respond to what Mother Nature decides to throw at us. Many of our homeless residents have spent a considerable amount of time living out in the elements, so this time of year conjures memories of times unpleasant.

I have never known what it is like to scramble for a roof or a meal. Shelter has been a constant variable in my life. Spending time with our residents is a testimony to the better aspects of the human condition. They have been down but many refuse to be counted out. There is a resilience within that inspires them to shrug off past circumstances and embrace an outlook that expects a future. It is our hope to provide them with more than dignity and respect. We want them to be safe and warm.

Donations are very important to Samaritan House and right now we could really use some supplies that would help our residents in the coming months. Here is a list of things that would be a huge blessing:

Winter socks
Sleeping bags
Insulated pants
Hand warmers

Thanks so much! You can drop these off at the shelter or call 257-5801 for more information.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Newattitudes

Sometimes its nice to put a new spin on an old classic. At risk of incurring a few lightening bolts, here goes...

"Blessed are the poor in finances,
for theirs is a resourcefulness, unparalleled.

"Blesses are they who mourn and wail,
for they will comfort their neighbors in days to come.

Blessed are the unassuming,
for they shall inherit a mandate to improve this world.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for more than a meal,
for they prompt us toward justice over caloric intake.

Blessed are those with short memories,
for they shall look to inspire kindness to those undeserving.

Blessed are they who endorse purity and empathy,
for they shall be God's message to others.

Blessed are those who actively pursue peace,
for they shall envelope everyone into their fold.

Blessed are they who are discriminated against and slandered,
for theirs is the kingdom of Kalispell."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Night Lights

I recently finished watching a series (thank you Netflix) about a Texas high school football coach and the trials and tribulations related as he juggled his job and his family. He was perpetually stressed out and on the verge of being overwhelmed by playing the role of mentor, coach, and father to half the boys in his town. He had a catch phrase he would end each practice with and it became the rallying cry of his team: "Clear eyes, full heart... Can't lose."

Yeah, I know. It's cheesy and jingoistic and it makes for great television when there's dramatic music tugging at your heart strings while you're actually watching it. But the more I thought about this phrase, it began to carve a niche into my brain. I broke it down into its two main components and realized the complimentary implications were actually quite brilliant.

Clear eyes. When we see things clearly we are unencumbered by distractions and the hubris of life that seek to cloud the truth around us. If our eyes are truly clear, then the overwhelming reality of what is around us has no choice but to make us respond. Clarity of vision means we sometimes have to make a conscious effort to see straight and not be blinded by the convenience of indifference or willful ignorance. There are problems that need addressing and clear eyes imply we can focus on what needs to be accomplished. Things get ratcheted up a whole other level when we combine this mantra with what comes next.

Full heart. Having a full heart means we embrace the difficulties plaguing our lives and look for solutions based in empathy and humanity. A heart cannot break unless it has reached its maximum capacity for feeling. When is the last time we cared deeply enough about something that we were heartbroken if it didn't happen? Having a full heart means we are motivated by the need to be part of a greater solution to help others. We stretch ourselves to the point of being uncomfortable unless things change.

Can't lose. We live in a world of progress reports, employee evaluations and measurable results. We clamor for perfection because we do not want to be bypassed by others. I think we get so caught up in winning, that we forget it might be better to play as a team instead of focusing on breaking individual records. In the fight to end homelessness in Kalispell, Samaritan House implores you to join with our vision and our heart.

Together, we will not lose.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Middle Road

Middle school is an interesting concept. Back in my day it was referred to as 'junior high,' and I'm fairly certain it was the beginning of the end of youthful innocence. The older a student becomes, the less he or she relies on the word of others and personal opinions are formed based on experience and not inference. I like middle school because the kids seemingly live in a state of brutal honesty and they will tell you what they think without blushing. It's unnervingly refreshing.

Recently, I was talking with a group of 7th graders about homelessness and I was curious about what their perceptions would be. While their parents might sugar-coat answers based on politics or societal pressure, I knew these kids would let me know what they thought with little to no filter. And even thought I wasn't worried about swaying their opinions, I decided not to tell them that I work with the homeless.

The main topic we broached was the causes of homelessness and the majority of the students thought that people were homeless because life had dealt them a bad hand. Unemployment and medical bills were mentioned most often, while substance abuse and crime were not brought up at all. I found this interesting because I am so used to having discussions about homelessness where the beginning point centers on those latter issues rather than the former ones.

These kids believed that, of course, a person could make poor decisions that might lead to homelessness, but the overwhelming essence of the conversation kept moving from results of homelessness to what can be done to prevent it. It occurred to me that this current generation has something that has eluded their predecessors: problem-solving skills that have been grafted into their very fabric of being. They don't approach situations or problems from a perspective that things are too difficult to solve. It makes sense to them that homelessness does not have to be a permanent human condition. It might be a rough road to hew, but it can be done.

Instead of the pessimism and cynicism of older generations, I picked up on a refreshing sense of practicality. They weren't buying into partisan lines that focused on politicized solutions; they were more concerned if a single mom could afford groceries than they were if she voted a certain way. I was humbled and encouraged by the conversation.

Now, if I could only burn my middle school photos.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I am the Problem

At the turn of the 20th century lived a British journalist named GK Chesterton. Legend has it that one of the larger newspapers in London posed an open question to its readers, asking "What is the greatest problem in the world today?" Chesterton's submittal was brief and to the point:

Dear Sir,
I am.
- GK Chesterton

We live in a culture where people are quick to pass the buck and shift blame and responsibility to others very quickly. We often remain bystanders in situations when we could make a positive difference and it seems more convenient to remain uninvolved in the lives of others if we are given a choice. I don't think most people necessarily ignore the plight of others out of malice, so here are a few of my theories as to why people remain part of the problem without ever becoming part of a solution.

1. Fear of reprisal: Honestly, I think some people are afraid of helping others because there is an underlying fear that their kindness might be rewarded with culpability if things go a bit haywire. America is a place where we love to sue each other and why should a person reach out to assist someone else if the action leads to a lawsuit because the person being helped takes advantage?

2. Feeling overwhelmed: A person can be overwhelmed if they look around and take notice of all the problems in their environment. Good intentions get paralyzed because there are simply so many issues that need addressed. Taking inventory of what needs to be done ebbs into a withdrawal from action because there is a feeling that nothing can help.

3. Not knowing what is needed: Sometimes we're just not aware of the issues in our own backyard. We have subscriptions to 20 different news sources detailing the ails of countries thousands of miles away but we don't realize how dire things can be for people living two streets over.

4. We feel under-qualified: This might be why the majority of people do not help others. We don't believe we have the skills or ability to help. Fortunately, this is an easy myth to dispel. Helping others can can be as easy as providing a listening ear or making a donation of time or finances; Volunteering a helping hand to paint a room or sharing a conversation over a meal.

Our needs at Samaritan House are vast and perpetual. There is never a day in which we cannot use help of some kind, whether it be finances or practical help. Over the years, so many people have invested in our mission to house the homeless and provide them with dignity and the resources to carry on with their lives in difficult situations. For that, we are truly appreciative and grateful of the generosity shown.

If you are reading this and find yourself in one of the above-mentioned categories, please know that you do not need to remain there. Becoming part of the solution is easier than you think!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A House is not a Home

Ever wondered why homelessness is not called "houselessness?" The root of both words are nouns. Neither are plural. It's not like the word homelessness rolls off the tongue with poetic splendor. I might even argue houselessness has more of an alliterative ring to it. I suppose in the grand scheme of life, this is really a non-issue and I'm just quipping over words. But it got me thinking, which is quite the task during college football season.

House seems to imply a physical structure: nails, wood, mortar, stone, electricity and a whole lot of other things I am confused by when I visit Home Depot. A home is impersonal and lacks intimacy or tradition. It's another name for an empty building which is why people go house-hunting. There is no sense of history reverberating through the halls. No scuff marks tracking up the floors or smudged fingerprints staining windows.

Home implies an environment: security, longevity, happiness and a lot of other things I experience anytime I visit my favorite burger stand. It's another name for a lived-in place which is why you see tacky doormats proclaiming "Home Sweet Home." If you close your eyes and listen intently, you will hear echoes and laughter and footsteps bounding down staircases and hallways. There is a story attached that grows grander and larger with each passing day. Generations nestled into a common structure.

Hmm... Being homeless is not the same as being houseless.

When a person is homeless (as opposed to houseless), they lack more than a place to live. There is an absence of comfort that accompanies and plagues a person by robbing them of everything that is attached to a home. The emotional aspect is a searing reminder that not having a home is much more dire and horrific than not having a house.

Thank you for supporting Samaritan House and our ongoing mission to help people get through their difficult circumstances. Because of you and your generosity, we can keep the lights on and food in the pantries. Your help does not go unappreciated or unnoticed. It is heartbreaking to imagine a life without pleasant memories or an expectation that the future will be better than the past. Losing a home can be emotionally crippling and has far-reaching ramifications that eclipse just checking into and staying at a shelter. Being homeless entails losing more than just a mailing address.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Importance of a Fridge

My refrigerator has been on the fritz the past three days. I noticed something was wrong when I retrieved an ice-cold beverage that was actually ice-tepid. The annoyance factor was through the roof but I was more inconvenienced than angry. Its going to take the repair man a few days to fix the problem and besides the cost of some spoiled dairy products, I think my family will survive.

But I'm a bit of a whiner and I've been moping around, hemming and hawing, while I try and convince myself that its not the end of the world and the pangs in my belly are not a result of starvation, but simply because I've gone to microwaveable entrees with a vengeance reserved for the gods of Olympus. Again... besides the slight aggravation, I think I'll make it. I can file this ordeal under "First World Problems" like running out of my favorite extra dark coffee and having to settle for the nasty light blend. The problem will be remedied tomorrow with a slight adjustment and I'll be back to the winter wonderland temperature well-suited to cool my deli meats.

This little refrigeration hiccup has spurred some thought, however. How do other people survive without refrigerators? If a person is living on the street or in a camp, then keeping food cold can be a major issue that surpasses annoyance and leads to danger. Certain types of food must be chilled or the results can be disastrous or even deadly. Or what if a person can't afford to have their fridge fixed if it goes bad or won't keep the food at a safe level? My slight annoyance is a harsh reality for others who might have their electricity shut off because of a missed payment.

Sometimes we aren't overly grateful for our appliances because they are routinely counted upon to NOT malfunction. We only think of the hot water heater when it goes out. We rarely wake up every morning and are joyful that our car battery is charged. It's when these things aren't functioning that we realize how dependent we are upon having them around. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who consider a fridge a luxury and not just a stainless steel magnet for our kids terrible (but cherished) school art projects.

I try and teach others to be empathetic but I'll admit that its a great deal easier to espouse morality lessons while drinking ice cold lemonade on a hot day.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Homeless, not Hopeless

Sometimes its easy to try and sum up life or circumstances in cute little phrases that often look better on refrigerator magnets than they do if we actually try to live them out. Working in social services must be the Mecca of catch phrases because there are mantras and phrases for (and on) everything.

Need a quick pick-me-up? No problem: there's a wall calendar with a few inspirational quips. Having a bad day and want to feel better? Easy as pie: just read the plaque with the sunset and pretty font displaying a motto that is worthy of making Oprah blush.

Now, I'm not disparaging these items that make people smile by simply existing next to the half-filled coffee cup on a desk somewhere. Inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors and I will not begrudge anyone the opportunity to be happy. My problem is that we too often memorize these auto-responses and blurt them out like they're Dr. Ron Jon's Magical Miracle Tonic. We can focus on the words and feelings so intensely that we neglect the intention of the message. One such message is one I've heard (and used) often at Samaritan House: Homeless, not Hopeless. I've said this a thousand times but seldom actually thought about it. The rest of the staff have no problem living this out and genuinely reflect it on a daily basis. As usual, I'm the one late to the game on this one.

I was driving today when I saw a bumpersricker that simply read, "HOPE," and it reminded me of our  phrase that is the title of this blog. I even uttered the catchphrase out loud a few times when the significance started to seep in and I was truly humbled by the message. Being homeless is usually only synonymous with hopelessness when people who aren't homeless are the ones doing the talking. Many of the homeless I've met over the years are not hopeless at all; quite often its the polar opposite and they display an optimism that could be a lesson for everyone. They understand that life can get better and hope is sometimes all they have so it becomes more than a theme. It becomes their reality. They live in expectation that things will improve.

I am often the one who pays lip service to this idea but doesn't buy into it. I am the one who needs to remember that reality is what we make of it. Once again, I can take a lesson from our residents.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Illegal to be Homeless?

Should it be illegal to be homeless?

South Carolina outlawed homelessness in certain parts of the capital city of Columbia. Anyone found sleeping outside will be taken 15 miles away and placed in a shelter or jailed if they refuse to comply. The logic behind these relocation centers is too improve the situation for local business owners and to cut down on crime.

 As small business owners on Main Street, we see firsthand how the homeless crisis is affecting the city,” Jessica and Joe Kastiner, owners of Paradise Ice, told the city council. “Please think of the everyday citizens, the revitalization of Columbia and the safety of everyone.

Interesting... I thought the homeless were citizens, too. 

I understand that business owners have a right to make a living and create conditions that maximize their opportunities. I can even empathize with them because my parents owned a small business when I was a kid. It's a difficult path and requires diligence, hard work, and a bit of luck. But I don't think the answer is shipping off people who are homeless. I don't think tossing them into the slammer is quite the right idea, either.

The article cites the cost of housing one person at a shelter at $22,000 for a year. To house someone in an apartment and include services like rehabilitation (which is NOT necessary for all homeless people), the cost is between $16-17,000. Hmm... Interesting.

But besides the economics of the situation, this is also a moral issue. Is it right to round people up and force them to leave an area if they are not bothering others? Are the aesthetics of a situation now the base foundation to dictate policies that infringe upon the rights of citizens? I grew up on the east coast and spent a lot of time in South Carolina as a child and young adult. The people are hospitable  and friendly and I don't want to stereotype the entire Palmetto State with this blog. 

But, for now, it seems that Montana is warmer place to live in some aspects.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Jobs for the Homeless

The difference between a job and a career has some subtle differences. The distinguishing contrast is that the former is a stop-gap until a person lands the later, which implies longevity and fulfillment and a better conversation at stodgy, dull cocktail parties that you never would have been invited to if you only had the former.

Over the years I have helped quite a few of our residents work on their resumes. I use the term ‘work’ very loosely because there is no real word that comes to mind to depict filling in decade-long gaps of employment. Too often, these missing years consisted of homelessness, chemical or drug abuse, and even jail time. These are not really the items that scream viably employable.

Many of the men and women I worked with were at a place in their lives where a career had been set on the back burner and what they sought was a job. Something to help them get to the next step. There is a damaging misconception that homeless people don’t want to work. I have found that most of the people at Samaritan House would gladly accept gainful, legal employment if they were offered a chance. But the stigmas attached to hiring the homeless often override the concerns of even the most benevolent of people.

I came across an article about hiring the homeless and found some helpful tips. These are courtesy of the North Carolina Coalition for the Homeless. 

What homeless people need, so to best get back into the work force, is a service that can help connect them to employers willing to help the homeless. This service would do three things:
  1. Find employers who are willing to hire the homeless. 
  2. Find homeless people who are able and available to work.
  3. Create a vetting process by which the best candidates for employment would be matched up with potential employers. 

It's really no different than any other job service, except that it deals with the specific needs and issues of the homeless. There are employers out there who are willing the hire the homeless, and there are homeless people who are qualified and are willing to work. But the unique situation of homelessness often makes it difficult for employers and potential employees to find each other. Most importantly, this service should be provided by real people getting involved and making things happen by getting to know both employers and potential employees. Automation would just not work in this situation.

For homeless people, it would be a great relief to know that the employer they are going to interview with has already been apprised of their homeless status, and that the issue of being homeless is not necessarily going to be an obstacle to employment. Homeless people can than relax enough so to focus on having a good job interview - developing a good relationship with the potential employer - and not wasting time worrying about how to dodge certain questions concerning their homeless situation.

Employers also have certain needs in hiring people, especially homeless people. I imagine most employers don't want to spend a great deal of time finding qualified applicants, neither do they have the time, usually, to learn all the specifics of how to deal with the different homeless types, trying to figure out which would be the best candidate for a job. It would work out much better for them to hear from a knowledgeable third party whom best to hire. And I'm sure most employers would appreciate being told up front by an expert in homelessness, how best to deal with the specific needs of homeless employees, such as scheduling and transportation issues for the employee.

Posting job openings on a board or web site, for any homeless person to find and attempt to apply for is problematic in a number of ways, which I don't think I have to elaborate on. This particular service requires a real person as liaison. Doing so would insure a much higher rate of success, homeless people would be more likely to apply for jobs and potential employers would not be discouraged by any potential negative experience.

Anyways... I thought these were very practical ideas that would help employers and the homeless.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Power of Choice

Expectations are an interesting thing. They usually stem from a belief that we think a situation will turn out a certain way based on information or routine. If something happens enough times, then we suspect the same (or similar) result will occur because it makes sense. This applies to everything in life, whether we realize it or not. In nature, we expect the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. We expect winter to be cold and summer to be warm. We expect the Dallas Cowboys to be Super Bowl contenders before the season starts but then fail miserably because they are perpetually over-hyped and overrated. These types of expectations don't require much faith because they are impersonal and regulated by laws of nature.

When dealing with people, though, expectations can be dangerous at times because they unfold from stereotypes that are more damaging than realistic. We paint people with broad generalizations by saying "these people always..." or "those people usually..." We don't allow for individualism within a group because we round everyone up together and stereotype them. Sadly, this is common and its comfortable because it makes life easier by allowing us to see the world in a way that excuses our prejudices by not permitting others the freedom to be their true selves.

Because I work with the homeless, I often hear people get riled up because they think that all homeless people are looking for handouts and are uninterested in working. I know this is one of those false stereotypes based on misconception and negative portrayals but sometimes its difficult to get others to see this. The majority of the people at Samaritan House want to work. They want to provide for themselves and their families. They desire an opportunity over a handout. That's why I was very excited when I came across a story in the national media that drives this point home.

I've linked it to this article so you can read it in its entirety, but here's a summary: a homeless man in New York was given the choice between some free cash and the opportunity for an education and the gentleman met my expectations. Please take a second and check it out.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rosa's Story

Rosa's alarm beeps, cutting through the silence to remind her that another day has arrived without her consent. The days never stop coming no matter what her circumstances are. They are indifferent towards her as she groggily washes her face, scarfs down some Pot Tarts, and then brushes her teeth. Her mom left for work two hours before she woke up but she knows the drill by now. She's the oldest 9 year old in her apartment complex.

Rosa's school is only two blocks away but today it feels like the Bataan March. She is the new girl in a classroom full of kids who have known each other for years and bonded over baseball and soccer and dance lessons. Rosa just moved from the shelter and she has nothing in her room save a bed and dresser with some Legos stashed under her pajamas in the third drawer down. But constructing skyscrapers out of building blocks is the last thing on her mind on this day.

Rosa sits in the second seat back in the middle row of chairs. Avoiding the teacher's gaze is her primary concern and she wants nothing more than to show the other kids that she is smart and funny and has an infectious laugh that lit up the dining room at the shelter. But Rosa is scared because she worries her clothes stand out for all the wrong reasons. The bell rings and the first recess expels her from the comfortable structure of classroom anonymity to the social caste system of the playground.

Rosa eats her lunch slowly and methodically because she remembers the days when it was a privilege and not a right. Other kids complain and crow about what's on their plates while Rosa scrunches up her nose and joins in to avoid persecution even though she is over the moon, inwardly, about the potatoes, salad, and chicken teriyaki. Thankfulness is forced to coexist with peer pressure.

Rosa returns home and knows that she only has an hour until her mom will join her after work. They will talk about their days over a newly purchased thrift store table and a plate of pasta. Soon it is time for Rosa to clean up and get ready for bed so she can begin the cycle all over again. She drifts off to sleep where she finds herself equal with all the kids she spent the day with. She's not totally sure what 'affordable housing' means but its something her mom is concerned about. Her mom never says anything directly to her, but Rosa knows that if she doesn't get more hours at the grocery store, they will have to move back to the shelter.

Rosa's alarm beeps.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Faux Friends

I have a confession to make that will probably not win me many friends with today's techno-savvy, socially connected, globally personified generation. I'm not a huge fan of social media and the whole concept of cyber friendship, but I will admit value and merit can be extracted from these institutions. I promise I'm not some old curmudgeon grasping at my Brother 3000 Word Processor with white knuckles as the age of the typewriter sinks faster than the Titanic. Honestly, there are some incredible advantages to living in a world with immediate access to information.

On the flip side, I really do not care what 800 people ate for breakfast or believe its a necessity that people must comment on what the contestants of Big Brother are doing at any given moment. Being alive today is a double edged sword. A glass both half full and half empty. My biggest beef, however, is the whole idea of socially constructed "friendship." We have substituted the word friend for spectator. We spend an absurd amount of time watching the lives of others without interacting with them in a significant way. Intimacy is limited to whether a person feels up to hitting the 'like button.'

I will admit I am prejudiced because of my background. I grew up as a Generation Xer who thrived in social environments tied to reading people by  speaking with them on an individual level. Personal conversations were expected because that was the only way to determine if a person was real or a phony. I won't elaborate on this but if you have any questions then just rent (what I grew up doing) or download (what my kids do) Reality Bites and all your inquiries will be satisfied. We have become desensitized  to the ills of life by becoming over-saturated to their existence.

Google 'homelessness' and you can spend hours scrolling through images of people in their most desperate times. But then what? Click on to your other screen tab and either finish your round of Fruit Ninja or comment on your Facebook page about how people need to get involved? But how do we get involved in real and tangible ways? Do we participate or merely inform others who inform others who inform others without ever actually doing anything?

Combating the issues that cause homelessness requires more than viewing-inspired commentary. At Samaritan House, we are thankful for those true friends who invest in what we do on a real and tangible level. So many of you prepare meals and volunteer at the shelter and fundraisers. You support our residents by answering the call for donations and contributions. The concept of friendship is deep and lasting and we could not do anything without your help.

If you would like to become more involved, please call and we will be happy to let you know what you can do to help change the lives of others. Now, please forgive me as I need to go... There is a really cute YouTube video of a kitten playing with yarn that I need forward to a few people.

Monday, August 19, 2013

To Panhandle or Not to Panhandle

Okay, this is a very contentious topic and elicits passionate feelings and responses from people representing all different walks of life and persuasions. It is not as simple as proponents or opponents convey and it divides households and town-hall meetings like nothing since the War Between The States. And while some people are indifferent toward panhandling homeless people, most of us in the Valley have formed at least a smattering of an opinion.

Now, here's the kicker for this article.

I'm not going to come out in favor for or against panhandling. It is an issue that deserves more attention than this blog can offer and it requires a discussion, not a diatribe. So, for all intents and purposes, my goal is to address why a person would panhandle in the first place. I realize there are "professional" panhandlers who rake in some serious bank during their shifts at various locations across the massive expanse of this nation. I'm bracketing these individuals because they are not homeless and this is more of a racket for them than a necessary evil to survive.

When I write about panhandlers, I am referring to those who are homeless and genuinely in need of some cash. For me, the issue is not so much the mechanics and logistics of being homeless; the dilemma lies at the heart of what is causing the person to stand with a sign and beg total strangers for spare change or any 'little bit that helps.' The degradation attached to asking for money might only be outweighed by the humiliation of what the person returns to when he or she is finished for the day.

A shack or bridge. Maybe a shelter or camp?

The conditions driving a person to panhandle must be deplorable enough to prompt that person to shed their dignity long enough to be gawked and sneered at for long periods of time. No one wants to panhandle and the issue lost in the shuffle is the discussion about what it takes to eliminate the idea of panhandling for a person. When affordable housing and economic opportunity are available, then chances a person will panhandle decrease. Educational access that can lead to gainful and adequate employment is crucial. Business owners and law enforcement personnel are spared from having to pick a side that often unfairly paints them as inhumane or uncaring.

At Samaritan House, we are seeking viable options to eliminate homelessness in the Valley, which will lead to a monumental decrease in the need for people to panhandle. We're too busy trying to create tangible solutions than to get bogged down in arguments.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Homelessness in the 1600s

Our country has a deep and rich heritage of all sorts of values. We became the nation we are today after a few centuries of carving out a unique identity based on how we would separate ourselves from other countries. It's interesting (to me, at least) to see how far we have evolved as a society. Many of the problems and issues the original settlers faced have been eliminated and long-solved. I'm not sure of the last time anyone died of survey and, to my knowledge, today's log cabins are a bit sturdier than the Jamestown versions.

We've waged wars and grown industry. We've cultivated democracy and invented the Snuggie. As Americans, we have addressed and solved numerous issues that plagued or disrupted our lives at one point or another. But there are some issues that have baffled and confounded us since the near beginning. One of these problems is homelessness, which was first mentioned in written documents in 1640 (136 years BEFORE we became our own nation). There was a story about a family in the northeast who was rendered without a dwelling habitat due to natural disaster. So there you have it... homelessness has been just as much a part of our history as Manifest Destiny and the Articles of Confederation.

In the earliest years of our nation's history, it was believed that if a person was homeless, then it was God's will as a punishment for a life that was most likely morally reprehensible. There was not a great deal of compassion in many circles because the person homeless was simply reaping what they sowed. I like to think these attitudes have changed but I still encounter the occasional person who is condescending toward the homeless for this same reason. They believe it is inconceivable that a person who is homeless did not "do something" or make some poor decisions along the way that resulted in their condition.

Never mind the fire or flood.

Or medical bills.

Or sudden loss of employment.

Death in the family.

Fortunately, I think we have evolved enough as a society to move on from this archaic and socially Darwinistc perspective. There are numerous reasons a person can find them self without a fixed or permanent address and Celestial Retribution is not the answer. So, what is the solution?

Since homelessness has been around since before the inception of the United States, is there any reason to think we can find a permanent solution? I mean, if its been around this long then doesn't that mean that we need to accept it and just try to do what we can to regulate it?

Not even close. At Samaritan House, we are working on a five year plan to end homelessness in Kalispell and we believe that this not only can be done, but it must be done. We are hoping to write a new page in this country's history.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Great Expectations

Volunteers are crucial to the daily operation of Samaritan House. Recently, a young lady 16 years of age helped us out and these are her words.

“When my aunt asked me to visit her work at the Kalispell Samaritan House, I was a little apprehensive. It was the idea of a new place, with people I don't know, in a situation that I wasn't sure about. But, seeing that my aunt loved her work, I decided to go. When I first arrived at Samaritan House, I was pleased to find how clean it was. Now, admittedly, my experience with homeless shelters is extremely limited. But, Kalispell Samaritan House put the one other shelter I had seen to shame. It's large and well lit and feels welcoming.

Right away I got to meet some very friendly people. After that I warmed right up to this new place. I was my aunt's shadow for a bit as I got to look around and meet new people. As far as residents went, I hadn't been sure what to expect. In the end, I found that everyone I met was pleasant and polite. It made me happy to see several small families and that they had a nice place to stay. I had the privilege of serving the residents their dinner, goulash (Though, really, I'd call it noodles in meat sauce, the goulash I know is nasty). I was surprised to find how kind and polite they were when I served them. Not that I expected them to be drunken bums who flipped the bird, but people are so seldom polite these days about saying simple things like "please" and "thank you." Especially to people who serve food. Seriously, don't tick off the people who prepare your food.

Anyway, I loved getting to experience the different senses of humor that everyone had. I was laughing out loud seeing people tease my aunt, or lament that that day was her last working at Samaritan House. After dinner, dessert was served and there were calls of, "Awesome movie at 7:00 sharp!" And I helped clean up. As I went to get a vacuum for a man needing to do his chores, he began to tell me a story. He told me where he had worked before, and how good the pay was. Not an exciting story, really, but I was happy to hear it. That story got me thinking, everyone living in the Samaritan House had a story to tell. They probably weren't all bunnies, and love, and unicorns, but life had come along and kind of slapped them in the face.

I could see residents really getting on their feet again, there were ads asking for paid help, and people expressing interest in them. There were rooms for rent for people finally getting paid enough to afford it. I left a short time later, happy with my experience at Samaritan House. The staff and residents were very kind, the facility was nice, I got to help people, and I got to see a positive place that people could go for help.

May the Kalispell Samaritan House Live Long and Prosper.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Parting Shot

People are always coming and going at Samaritan House and sometimes they will leave a note of encouragement. Recently, one of our residents departed after a lengthy stay and left this note, which is shared with his permission.

  To Whom it may concern, My story with the Samaritan House has been one of the best experiences of my life! I started out in Kalispell at Pathways to go through medically supervised drug withdrawl. I came from Livingston, Montana, specifically for that reason. My parents asked that I try and find a place to stay (in Kalispell) so I could be away from certain influences back home and Samaritan House took me into their shelter. 

I stayed in the shelter for three months which was very generous as the max time is usually one month. The staff were very helpful. After that, Cary (case manager) let me rent a studio room which I stayed in for over a year and I'm proud to say I've been drug and alcohol-free the entire time due to my will to be clean and the support of the wonderful staff. I would like to thank Kent and the adminstration for putting up with my late rent at times, and for understanding. 

I would like to thank very much Billy, Kassi, Chris, Carrie, Kent, Lillian, Robbie, Korky, and any staff member I forgot to mention. I WOULD NOT HAVE MADE IT without your help and support.  

Thanks so very much!!! (name witheld)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back to School

When I was a kid, I hated this time of year. The days seemed a little shorter and the autumn chill crept in little by little when the sun went down. It was a reminder that summer was nearing its end and school was hovering about in the not so distant future. Like most kids, I felt about as happy about going to school as I did about going to the dentist (disclaimer: my hometown dentist was not nearly as capable and pleasant as the dentists here in the Valley).

As I aged and matured and moved on from Def Leppard and Whitesnake to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, I began to realize that school was not the internment camp I made it out to be. Sure, it was rigid and structured and really disrupted my sleeping schedule, but it was important in other areas. Even at its worst it was a means to an end. If I actually buckled down, I could catapult myself into the lofty realms of community college and then the unthinkable...

I was the first member of my family to graduate from college and I will be the first person to admit that a college education is not the only way to gainful, lucrative, and fulfilling employment. It's merely one way, but its a way that many of Montana's children will not have access to because they never even make it to the conclusion of high school. Homeless Children in America reports,

"The difference in lifetime earnings between those with a high school degree and those without is, on average, approximately$200,000. Researchers have calculated the additional costs of education necessary to achieve higher high school graduation ratesand the increases in amounts paid back to society in the form of taxes and the like. 

The results suggest that net lifetime increasedcontributions to society associated with high school graduation are about $127,000 per student. If we assume on the basis of their test scores a high school graduation rate of less than 25%, then the 431 homeless high school students in Montana, as a group, will lose $65 million in lifetime earnings and society will lose $41 million in potential contributions from them" 

Here are some common obstacles that prevent children in Montana from staying in school because they lack some, or all of these basic resources. So please, as the summer draws to a close and your children prepare to head back to classroom, please remember there are many kids who will not have this opportunity and the effects on their life can be staggering unless things change.

Reported Barriers to Enrollment
1. Eligibility for Homeless Services
2. Immunizations
3. Other Medical Records
4. Other Barriers
5. School Selection
6. School Records
7. Transportation

These are things we often take for granted because they are accessible for us, but these simple procedures and matters of logistics can prove to be quite unattainable for homeless children in Montana.

Friday, August 2, 2013

NBA Player Stomps Homeless Man

I normally don't like re-posting stories from other sources. However, I was reading a few different articles when I came across this story on Yahoo! news. The story focuses on a professional basketball player who makes a very comfortable living and is, quite possibly a multi-millionaire. 
"Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones had a rather nondescript rookie season, but after a solid showing in the NBA Summer Leagues in Orlando earlier in July, he and his young Rockets team were probably hoping to make waves heading into a crucial 2013-14 campaign. Allegedly, Jones is off to a very poor start in terms of breaking into the public’s consciousness.
KATU is reporting that Jones was arrested after allegedly stomping on the leg of a homeless man after leaving a bar in Portland on Wednesday morning. Jones, who is a Portland native, was reported to have been observed by a police sergeant in the wee hours as shouting down the homeless man before kicking the victim’s leg. From the station's news site:
While watching the group walk away from the bar, the sergeant observed a man, later identified as Jones, walk by a doorway where two homeless men were sleeping, according to police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.
The sergeant said Jones yelled, “Wake up,” then raised his leg and stomped down on one of the man’s legs. The men were sleeping in the doorway of 114 Northwest 3rd Avenue.

 The victim, 46-year-old Daniel John Kellerher, received a minor leg injury and did not require immediate medical attention, Simpson said."

Some people have absolutely no value for human life or concept of what it means to treat people with dignity, which is a key part of our mission statement at Samaritan House. We feel our motto reflects the heart and ethos of the Flathead Valley and we hope to mirror the compassion and empathy we see around us. 

I know that one individual does represent an entire community or profession (Portland is an amazing city and there are hundreds of professional athletes who don't go around curb-stomping the homeless). But we do live in a polarized society that often attributes worth to status. Prestige and wealth have, historically, been wielded as a double-edged sword to justify the detrimental treatment of the poor. I like to think things are changing and we are evolving toward a better understanding of what it means to care for those in need of our help instead of crippling them.

I like to hold out that we can make a difference in a positive way because we recognize every person deserves to be treated with dignity and equality.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The New Poor

Poverty is a loaded term. It conjures images of deprevity and isolation and often is accompanied by stigmas and stereotypes. This polarizing issue divides society by casting people in certain terms that have many presuppositions. We hear the term poverty and a certain picture dances in our head.

Perhaps a hungry child or a family living out of their automobile. A man or woman fighting the logistics of the unemployment office or quietly eating lunch at a shelter or rescue mission. I think these are all demonstrative of the products of poverty but it runs deeper than this. Poverty is the result of a broken system that needs more than a subtle tweaking; a massive overhaul is called for.

The thing about poverty is that it creeps up and can engulf a person a little at a time. A missed shift at work, here... an unexpected, uninsured medical emergency, there... Poverty is not confined to black and white glossies from the Great Depression era found in our children's school books. I did some research and found these staggering numbers relating poverty to the average American income for families living in the Lower 48 states (apologies to Hawaii and Alaska!). The number on the right represents the total number of people in a family and the income level on the left is the benchmark for what is considered the poverty level for a family that size.

1 person           $11,170
2 people           $15,130
3 people           $19,090
4 people           $23,050
5 people           $27,010
6 people           $30,970
7 people           $34,930
8 people           $38,890

There you have it. A familyof 4 is considered below the poverty level if their income is less than $23,050. I know many hard working, socially contributing, personally moral people who fall well under the poverty level for their respective family size. They are in their current situation because of low wages or having to work multiple part time jobs to take care of their children. They are not drug addicts or alcoholics or gamblers or frivolous with their finances. Rather, they are working the best they can within a system that can trap a person just as easily as it can advance them.

Our residents at Samaritan House meet the criteria for living in poverty, but they are part of a larger family that deals with it every day. This is not a call merely asking for donations or help. Rather, its a reminder that we all are in several boats together whether we are homeless or housed or working or unemployed. The need for empathy and charity toward one another is only surpassed by the frightful prospect that many of us are living paycheck to paycheck.

Poverty and homelessness are communal and societal problems that affect millions and they require societal and communal solutions!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


A lot can happen over a slice of pizza. Our dining room is often much more than a place for our residents to grab a bite to eat. It's a gathering center for conversation and a hub for catching up on all the news of the Valley as well as the rest of the country. An epicenter of laughter and contemplation all wrapped up in the form of a mini-cafeteria.

Recently, I had stopped by for lunch and had the pleasure of talking with one of our residents who was preparing to leave Samaritan House. The woman I spoke with was a single mother of two young  children and was preparing to move out into her own permanent housing. She had been staying with us for the past couple months and was ready to get back on her feet because we offered her the opportunity to save her finances and focus on some issues that were preventing her from having a home. She shared and the whole room was encouraged by her story.

I finished my lunch and plodded back to my office, determined to write about something that would inspire world peace or solve homelessness or at least earn me a congratulatory letter from Five Guys Burgers (my favorite). I sat in my chair, staring at my screen begging an idea to plop down from the nether-regions of the universe. Nada. Nothing. There had to be something I could muse about.

Data and statistics are always riveting so I sifted through a few projects we are working on and realized that presenting the information was slightly more thrilling than watching paint dry or any number of professional golf tournaments. It's not that the work is unimportant, but sometimes presenting this information can be challenging and due to the massive amount of pizza nestled in my stomach, I was in no shape to be creative. Ugh.

Then I recalled the conversation with the woman at our shelter and I felt very dumb for not immediately realizing the importance of what was happening with her. She was not going to be homeless in just a few days and life was changing for her and her kids. I couldn't believe it never occurred to me that this was a very noteworthy accomplishment. You see, sometimes we get so bogged down with meetings and papers and logistics, that we miss the forest through the trees.

The human element of what Samaritan House does has always, and will always be the catalyst for true change in people's lives. We do more than move around figures and crunch numbers and make appointments. We help moms and kids stay off the street while they transition into housing. Our staff works very hard to foster dignity and our case managers are relentless in their pursuit of assisting our residents better their stations in life. Our director is constantly raising funds to keep the lights on and food in the fridge, as well as overseeing all the day to day dealings of the shelter.

There is a definite progression that we clamor to see in our resident's lives and it feels good to see changes even if its over a slice of pizza.