Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nothing to Write Home About

Some estimates say that the population of this great planet topped 7 billion people a while ago. I have a difficult time imagining 7 thousand, so to extrapolate a few more zeros and stretch this number out to  the billions seems crazy. Sometimes, because I live in Big Sky Country, I forget just how many people are sharing the same piece of earth as me. I don't feel too awfully crowded as I drive down 93; I have a tough time passing 7 cars at certain times of the day.

So, here's something that might even be more mind-staggering than the tidbit of information contained in the first paragraph. Out of all the people in the world... the billions upon billions upon billions... None of them saw fit to write me a letter. I did not receive a single piece of mail today. Nada. Zip. If you created a play list for my mail experience this afternoon, it would be composed of the sounds of crickets and wind gusts, or even a Sad Trombone. Do you realize how incredibly small the odds are that out of all the people on this planet, not one of them felt compelled to write to me!? Cue the depressing Charlie Brown droopy- head music. I know this argument is a bit of a straw man. I don't know every single person on the planet and not all my global brothers and sisters have access to mail services.

The reason this feeble attempt at an article wandered into my mind is because of something I saw at our shelter a few weeks ago. Anytime one of our residents receives mail, we post his or her name on a list and post it so they know to come to our office and collect their letter or parcel. Our residents get so excited when they see their names on that roster and they are reminded that they still count. They are still part of a greater community that sees past their situation and difficult circumstances. A glimmer appears in their eye and they feel connected. All because of a letter.

We take these little things for granted sometimes. I often become annoyed when I receive things in the mail if I don't approve of their contents. I blow things out of proportion and fume even though I exist in the eyes of whomever sent me something. Many times our residents get very sad when their names are excluded from the mail list. It's one more reminder that they are invisible to society. They are ghosts that show up on no one else's radar. It's the little things, I suppose, that make us feel connected. But these little things are not so little to everyone.

Lately, I don't look at the mail the same way.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Phase One

Starting a project can be a mixed blessing. Depending on the size of the project, a person can spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and resources devoted to achieving the desired goal. Some people love beginning new projects. They are excited by the prospect of embarking upon a new challenge. I am not one of these people. My preference is to slide in at the very end of a project and try to convince everyone else that I’ve been there the whole time. Well, not really, but I would much rather work in a collaborative process so the other (brighter) ideas make up for my (dim bulb) suggestions.

Sometimes a person can hide out in a project. The process becomes so involved and multi-layered, the task overtakes the goal and immersion into the project outweighs finding a solution. This is a potential hang up for me, too. Often, I mean well but end up becoming so focused on the finer details of a task and I forget that finishing the project trumps the daily grind of working through it. So, why all this ‘project-laden’ talk, anyway? There has to be something more interesting to write about, right?

Well, one major project Samaritan House has looming on the horizon is the publication of our five-year plan to address homelessness in the Valley. Our hope is to issue a publication that envelops other social services providers in Kalispell. We want to work together in the community with like-minded organizations who are also seeking to provide solutions to those in need. We began this project a few months ago by releasing our State of Homelessness in Kalispell, Montana, in 2012. Okay, I admit the title is hardly riveting, but the purpose was to kick-start some dialogue in the community regarding homelessness in our own backyard(s). Who is homeless, and why are they homeless? What are the specific causes native to the 59901 and how do we compare with this problem on a national scale? The results were very interesting and if you would like a copy, you can pick one up at our administrative center located at 1110 2nd Street West, in Kalispell.

But this was only Phase One of our greater plan, which is to provide solutions. So many of you have donated time and finances to us and we want you to know that our goal is not just to identify the causes of homelessness and poverty. We are doing our best to create conditions that remedy these problems. So, as this begins to take on new life and we run with vigor headfirst into this project… please keep us in your thoughts. 

Thanks so much for all you already do for us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


There is a winter storm advisory for the next 24 hours. I suppose that's par for the course when you live in Flathead County in mid January. I'm prepared. I have studs on my tires and plenty of pellets for my stove at home. In the morning, I always start my vehicle and let it warm up for a few minutes before I attempt to drive it anywhere. It's nice to settle into a comfortably heated car. I set my coffee in the cup holder and usually drive a few miles to let it cool down a bit before I take a sip and end up burning my tongue, regardless. Having reliable transportation is essential this time of year. Did I mention the storm advisory?

Charlotte has a car, too. It only has about an eighth of a tank of but that's the least of her worries. Her coffee holders are occupied with toothbrushes and travel-sized bottles of shampoo. She doesn't let her car warm up before she drives anywhere because she doesn't really have many places to go. Well, that and the heater stopped working in October. She managed to cope well enough until early December arrived and then the nights got longer. It's indescribable having to live in a car.

My back cargo area can hold four large garbage bags full of donated clothes that I bring to the shelter with me. The trunk of her car is stuffed full of her clothes. My seat covers keep the upholstery protected. The blankets draped over her seats keep her from getting hypothermia. My dome light allows me to check for crumbs in my beard while hers lets her search every nook for a dime or nickel so she can get something to eat.

My car is an instrument for enjoyment and business. It lets me load up my family and take them on vacation. Charlotte's car is her bedroom, living room, and dining area all at once. I can lock my doors at night and set my alarm. She bolts her doors shut and prays the streetlight overhead doesn't burn out.

I really enjoy taking drives in Montana. The snow doesn't bother me too much and I like to complain because it reminds me that life isn't really that bad. Charlotte enjoys the summer. There is a winter weather advisory, you know.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What Say You?

Have you ever met one of those people who likes to hear their own voice more than anything else in the world? You know the type of person... No matter what the topic is, they've already done it better than anyone else on the planet. I used to be one of these people. I would like to blame it on youthful exuberance or being well intentioned and full of ideas, but that would be a lie. I was just an arrogant jerk and hopefully I've changed over the years.

For me, the light came on one day when I was having a conversation with a lady that I really respected. I forget the actual content of the conversation but remember that much of it involved me prattling on about some incredible insight I had on a certain issue and how I was going to revolutionize something. Finally, after I must have rambled on for an excruciatingly long time, she stopped me and said that what I was taking about was a great idea. I retorted that I knew that, but then she cut me off and told me that having a great idea was not anything to be proud of in and of itself. She told me that "revelation was the easy part," and that its what we do with these ideas that matter.

I learned something that day that other people already knew: talk is cheap. Anyone can theorize about doing great and marvelous things, but until a person steps out and tries to accomplish these things, it doesn't really matter. We've all heard a million great ideas from other people but I doubt we've seen a million actions taken to implement those ideas. At Samaritan House we have been working very hard to identify the causes of homelessness in the Flathead Valley. We've done research and conducted studies but this means very little if we now consider our task done. We are more concerned about providing solutions than just relaying symptoms. We also would love if you, in the community, would partner with us as we undertake this endeavor.

It would be great to start a dialogue regarding what you think are some of the issues facing the homeless population in Kalispell. It would be great if you wrote in and told us your own experiences dealing with homeless people in the Valley. Before we start tackling things from our standpoint, it only makes sense to hear from you. Over the next few blog entries I will do my best to convey your stories and ideas about how we can all address the issue of homelessness in Kalispell.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What Gives?

Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football away from Lucy. Remember how that turned out? Every time I think I can nail that 42-yard game winning field goal, the ball is retracted and I go flying and end up on my back. The disappointment permeates the air and I feel duped.

This morning I woke up and it was 2013. As a certifiable child of Generation X, I am very angry at the current condition of the world in which I live. Things are supposed to be different by this point in human history and we should not be wrestling with the same problems our parents and grandparents struggled with. We've all seen Bladerunner and Back To The Future Part 2. Where are all the cool gadgets and the hovering skateboards? Instead of living in a Stanley Kubrick movie, I feel like I'm stuck in Groundhog Day.

What's the deal? Am I the only one upset that I don't have a personal robot to do all my shopping? Or a hologram sports complex that allows me to bat .700 against CC Sabathia? Our lives should be much easier by now, but instead we are still facing so many of the same issues. What will it take to change things? As soon as we figure out how to make coffee even easier and more convenient than those little Kuerig machines, we can start working on other solutions. The ones that really matter.

Albert Einstein once noted that the best example of insanity was when a person kept doing the same thing, in the same way, but expected different outcomes. Maybe this applies to how we tackle issues related to homelessness and poverty.

If we no longer want 1 in 5 children to go to bed hungry, what can we do differently?

If we are truly repulsed by the fact that victims of domestic violence lose 8 million days of paid work each year because of the violence they experience, what can be done?

If it really bothers us that 3 out of every 200 hundred children are homeless, then I suggest we can no longer rely on the solutions of 2012.

At Samaritan House, we are always trying to be progressive in our dealings with homelessness. Over the next year it will be our honor and privilege to challenge the community to stand with us as we not only present the case and causes of homelessness, but as we also look toward new solutions to remedy these issues. Forget about flying cars and space travel.

... We're ready to kick the ball.