Thursday, May 30, 2013

We (like to say) Support Our Troops

Bumper stickers are the perfect way to advertise what we want other people to think we think. They are an easy method to convey a message without the inconvenience of having to defend our position or explain why/how that message is worthy of being plastered on the back of our vehicle. In Montana, I've noticed all manner of drive-by-slogans ranging from opinions on constitutional rights, to keeping Missoula weird, to the passive aggressive 'Get Lost' campaign directed toward (attracting?) tourists. But every once in a while I notice a sticker that makes me want to stop the car and ask the driver if they truly believe what it says. My wife never lets me do this.

"We support our troops." Okay, how?

I am not doubting the sincerity of these people and I understand that I'm casting a wide net that will ensnare all types of people, so if this doesn't apply to you then please humor me because I am sure it applies to someone else. I know different people display these stickers... Friends of people in the military, parents of children serving, veterans who want to support those still in active service, spouses. These individuals have a vested interest in this idea. It is personal and intimate to them.

But what about the person who bought (or was given) one of these and simply slapped it on their Escalade or Outback and promptly forgot it was there. It's a great social sentiment but it means nothing more. How exactly, does a person actually support the troops? It involves more than "keeping them in our thoughts." I think about all sorts of things during the day: food, music, sports, my family, the weather, books, zombies, did I mention food? I support these things (okay, minus the zombies) by actively pursuing them and trying to effect positive changes in them. I act. Thinking about something is not the same as supporting that thing. If you can do something in the time it takes a traffic light to change, then I question how much support is actually involved.

One of the the most important things we do for the veterans at Project Homeless Connect is provide them with services. There is a mobile clinic for them to utilize as well as numerous personal items for them to choose from. We believe supporting our troops entails actually trying to provide for them in areas in which they have been neglected. Nearly 1 in 4 homeless people is a US veteran. Our mission is to move from a bumper sticker to a reality.

Please partner with us. If you want a way to support our troops, please donate to PHC or come out and help volunteer.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

We Need Your Help

Lots of amazing things happened on June 8th.

In 452, Attila the Hun began his invasion of Italy.
In 1786, commercial ice cream was manufactured for the first time in NY City.
In 1986, the Boston Celtics won their 16th NBA championship.

Fast forward to June 8, 2013 (which technically hasn’t arrived yet), and YOU have the opportunity to play an instrumental role in world history. And while historians might neglect mentioning what will be unfolding at the Samaritan House Administration Center on this monumental date, we (at Samaritan House) will definitely think fondly and kindly of your actions.

We need a great deal of help preparing for our Project Homeless Connect event. On June 8th, we would welcome anyone interested in lending a hand to help us ready our facilities for this epic event. The work needed will entail sorting piles of donations and helping set up tables. There will be some light cleaning and tidying that needs to take place and there is always the element of the unknown… things that materialize from thin air that really need to be done.

So, if there is any way you would be willing to help us, we would be eternally grateful. Please come to our Administration Center between 10am and 4pm on Saturday, June 8th. We will be at the former armory located across from Peterson Elementary School, at 1110 2nd Street West, Kalispell.

If you are interested in volunteering to help but are unable to attend the massive work day on June 8th, please call the office to speak with Sean about dropping by anytime from now until PHC. The number is 257-5284. Thank you so much for your help and we look forward to seeing you (make history).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why we do Project Homeless Connect

The coffee finally cooled to a drinkable temperature. She had been staring into the cup for a few minutes, like she was seeking answers from the tepid, milky void. The noise of the large room  faded into a symphony of background sounds that were indistinguishable from one another. A droning hum replaced the individual voices and activities of those around her, creating a wave of  comfortable isolation. She was totally alone in a room crowded with others.

That was fine because she preferred not standing out.

Before she went, she was unsure of whether or not she was even going to attend the event because similar past experiences left her feeling worse than when she arrived. There seemed to be an unspoken stigma attached to these sort of things that she would rather avoid; a passive-aggressive tone that segregated the participants into an "us and them" caste. But, by the end of this day she realized all she had gone through was unique to this day. It was a different experience that sought to help without embarrassing and assist without discriminating. It truly wanted to connect people in ways that were beneficial and empowering.

She re-shifted her gaze and let her eyes readjust to a reality she often dreamed was a dream, itself. It wasn't. Her circumstances were as real and genuine as the paper coffee cup she held in her grasp. Her's was not an existence that could be wished away. While her life had never been a Fairytale story, it had slowly devolved into a cautionary tale marked by one tragedy upon another. And so she sat in the large room at a nondescript table in a tiny corner of northwestern Montana. She sat and she thought. Then she thought some more.

Something was changing.

She discarded her victim mentality and embraced one of determined resolution. It wasn't an epiphany or sign in the heavens. The room was not going to break out into a choreographed musical, culminating with her standing on top of the table singing her life's new mantra in a ready-made, rehearsed chorus. It had been a process of deliberation that led her to this point in time. In spite of any help she received, she had to make the decision to take back her life. It would be incremental and not an overnight success, but she was prepared for the journey.

The woman folded the empty paper plate and discarded all her rubbish in the nearest trash barrel. She surveyed the papers and information collected during the previous 3 hours. She now had resources and knowledge and the tools to implement her methodical escape from the life she indifferently wandered through. And as she gathered all her materials and the few items she picked up throughout the day, she looked down into the stroller at her sleeping son.

His life would be different because she was changing hers.   

Monday, May 27, 2013

2013 Project Homeless Connect Information

2013 Flathead Valley
Project Homeless Connect
A two day event for the Homeless or those at risk of homelessness.
Come get the help you need from over thirty different agencies and businesses.

June 13: 11am to 6pm
June 14: 9am to 1 pm

Samaritan House Administration Center
1110 2nd Street West, Kalispell
(The old armory across from Peterson Elementary)

Free Services offered:
Medical and Dental              Employment Assistance
Pet Services                         Financial Education
Identification Services           Haircuts
Veterans Services                 Legal Assistance
Disability Services                Vision Services
Housing Counseling              Senior Services
Bicycle Repair.                     More...

Please call 755- 6565 if you would like to donate, volunteer, or if you have questions.

If you would like a free birth certificate or driver's license, bring a picture ID with a signature or two forms of ID. If you are a veteran please bring your DD214 or military ID.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Trouble with Other Languages

Speaking a foreign language is tough. I've had a few years of Spanish and French and I can honestly say if I was lost in Barcelona or Paris, I would curl up in a fetal position and cry relentlessly until someone who spoke the language decided to save me either out of compassion or simply because my wailing had become annoying. I admire people who are bilingual because I know the effort involved with mastering more than one language, even if I can't do it.

It's natural to struggle in an environment where nothing makes sense. Foreign languages exclude people who have never been exposed to that culture or manner of communication. But what happens when we can't understand our own language... the very one we speak? We know what the words are but can't attach meaning to them. Have you ever watched a medical drama on TV and everything is fine until the doctors start rattling off technical jargon that makes sense to them but leaves the rest of us (who aren't doctors) clueless? This happened to me so often that I still hate Doogie Howser to this very day.

I realize this is a lame example, but I hope the premise rings true. My point is that many times we are in situations where we understand the words but the true meaning escapes us. This is why we offer legal service at Project Homeless Connect. Any of our clients who have questions regarding legal matters can meet with people who will take the time to 'translate' legal issues into a language that is understandable. One of the gravest ways that people are intimidated or discriminated against is due to legal actions against them that they cannot understand. Much is lost in the fine print.

Another advantage to the legal services provided at PHC is that many people would like to see if they have been discriminated against and whether they have a legitimate argument regarding any recourse they could take. Speaking legal-ese is difficult and often people give up if they're unfamiliar with how things work. Our volunteers hope to help our clients break through the foreign language of the legal system. This is a very key part of the PHC experience and we are very appreciative of those who help others in this potentially confusing area.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Queen for a Day

The little girl sits in the oversized chair and imagines she's a queen. Her servants scramble to pamper her every whim as she gazes out the window at the kingdom that doesn't really belong to her. In time, her robe transforms back into a cloth and the chambermaids evolve into the hairstylists they were when the queen climbed into the styling chair nearly 40 minutes earlier.  A fresh cut and style for the miniature debutant will remind her that she, too, was royalty. And though the fussing and attention will soon end, her smile will not fade for days.

It is difficult to place value on a haircut. But imagine if the physical act paled in comparison to the pride and joy that could well-up as a result of a simple wash, rinse, and trim. This is one of the most important services we offer at Project Homeless Connect. It's easy to attribute worth to things we deem important or crucial to survival. Financial advice and planning are often at the top of the list, as well as legal services and employment counseling. But a hair cut... Seriously?

When was the last time you were proud of how you looked? Not in a narcissistic way that begged everyone to treat you like one of the Real Wives Of Flathead Valley. But in a way that you felt confident to look others in the eye and address them as equals? For most of us, our appearance is important and we know that even if we might not (thankfully) be in contention to grace the cover of Vogue, we look nice. We don't worry that we will be discriminated because of our clothes or the way we are groomed. We go to work, socialize with friends, and hang out with family members without a terrifying fear that we will be ostracized for our appearance. In essence, our default-setting is understanding that we look presentable.

This isn't the case for many of our clients at PHC. For numerous reasons, many of them are unable to make it to a Beauty Salon. Everything from a lack of child care to work-scheduling conflicts to a lack of finances can hinder many people from ever being queen for a day. The feeling of confidence that can stem from being taken care of for just a few minutes can be very instrumental. I'm not saying that a person's worth is determined by this, but rather its an experience that everyone should get to have once in a while.

Thanks to all our volunteers who provide service in this area.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Help Me, Help You...

We can learn a lot from movies.

There is an iconic scene in the movie Jerry McGuire where Tom Cruise is acting as Cuba Gooding Jr's sports agent. Gooding is stubborn and often his own worst enemy when it comes to relating to various teams and Cruise finally reaches a level of unprecedented frustration with his client.

In a fit of desperation, Cruise loses his patience and utters the phrase, "Help me, help you!" The idea is that no matter how great Gooding is performing on the field (he is an NFL wide receiver), he will not win any fans because his attitude is terrible and he is selfish. Cruise knows that he can improve the situation if he's allowed to do his job and net the results that will make everyone, football player, agent, and the team, happy. It's about Gooding learning to give back and not being content to wallow in his current situation of entitlement.

Project Homeless Connect is one of the ways that Samaritan House, Community Action Partnership, the office of Veterans Affairs, along with several other service providers can actually give back and help the community. When homelessness is reduced, then everyone benefits. Unemployment rates decrease and more people contribute to the economy. Medical services are utilized less frequently by people who are unable to afford them. People have jobs and pay taxes and society generally has the ability to operate better. Project Homeless Connect takes place June 13-14 and we want to play our part to serve those in need.

But we cannot do it alone. We need your help if we want to help others. Hundreds of people will partake of the services provided by PHC and we are doing everything we can to keep costs low. We rely on volunteers and donations and humbly ask that you would consider making a financial donation to Project Homeless Connect. The money will be used to purchase items we need that will benefit the families, single men and women, children, and veterans who will attend.

Any contribution is tax-deductible and can be sent to (or dropped off at):
Samaritan House
124 9th Avenue West
Kalispell, MT 59901

Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana
214 Main Street PO Box 8300
Kalispell, MT 59904-1300

We are asking you to stand with us and help address the needs of not only the homeless in our community, but the entire community. Help us help you.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Project Homeless Connect story 1

Each footstep echoes a little less than the previous one. As he approaches the door, his step lightens and he hesitates before reaching out and grabbing the handle to the door. A pause to collect random thoughts he never imagined he would ever have to think. The version of himself about to enter the room is not the same person who would crossed that threshold just 2 years before. Steadying his emotions and calming his nerves, he opens the door and walks in, taking an empty seat. He becomes part of a greater narrative.

The volunteer eventually calls the man's number and he departs his chair and ambles across the room avoiding eye contact even though on one is watching. He does not like being the center of attention because recent activities have rendered him a bystander in his own life. He hated clich├ęs and knew that others viewed him as one. This room, the volunteer asking him questions, the stale coffee in the non-biodegradable cup he held in his grip... All elements to an impersonal stereotype. He was a number and piece of data that would be viewed and processed and entered into a computer as a statistic.

Except, he wasn't.

He was more than a number and an entry on a clipboard. The circumstances that relegated him to this new place in life were irrelevant. He could play the victim and wallow in the very real misery that accompanied him. The sadness in his life stemmed from actual events and he was entitled to the frustration that crept in when he closed his eyes at night and pretended to sleep. But he wouldn't succumb to these emotions. He acknowledged them and moved on. Too many others expected him dwindle and drown in his situation, but he decided he would script a different tale.

And, showing up was the first step. Refusing to be a victim meant that he was taking charge over his life and he would now dictate the direction. The initial step to the process was shedding the idea that he was powerless and had to accept his situation. He knew this was a trap and understood he had resources and people who wanted to help. The room around him faded and the words of the volunteer trailed off as he surveyed his surroundings. His posture stiffened. Clarity resounded in his mind and he knew this day would be a clean start. His rebirth was underway and an ever so slight smile graced his mouth as he sipped the tepid coffee.

His footsteps had a difference cadence as he walked the return trip down the hallway.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The (Wrong) Idea About Help

With less than a month until Project Homeless Connect unfurls and unfolds its tents, there is a stereotype that I would like to dispel before we even get started. Often, anytime the notion of help is mentioned, there can be an unspoken air of patronization or even condescension. A person only needs help if they are at a disadvantage. And they are at a disadvantage because they put themselves in a bad situation. And every bad situation is a result of a poor choice. And poor choices reflect a lack of ethics and morality. This type of faulty logic is rarely verbalized but it can still be the platform from which we construct our beliefs and ideas about others.

I think one of the most important results that stems from PHC is that this stereotype can be dismantled. Those in the position of being the helpers get to see, firsthand, that just because a person needs a hand does not mean the person receiving help is any less of a person. Our goal at PHC is to do more than help people find the tangible services they need to possibly move on in a beneficial direction. We want to see connections made between the various clients and service providers. Real action taking place in real time under the sunny skies of the Flathead Valley.

But, bumper sticker slogans aside, we also want to help people rediscover their dignity and self worth. This event is for anyone who is currently homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. There is no judgement or malice, and our volunteers help out because they understand that until a person can begin to see they have value, it doesn't really matter how many opportunities they are given. If a person cannot fathom they deserve to be treated with respect, then any service allotted to them simply slaps a Bandaid on a gaping wound. We, as a community, host PHC because we believe the people of the Valley are worth it.

So, as we continue to roll out the pertinent information concerning PHC, please stand with us as we seek to help the entire community by partnering with our brothers and sisters who will attend this event. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Summertime Connect

Summer in Kalispell means we get to have selective amnesia.

For a few glorious weeks we pretend winter never happened and life is one big perpetual beach party. People stream out of their houses and heave a collective sigh that the blanket of snow has been replaced by sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and whatever else inspires joy. For Samaritan House, summer hosts one of our most important events, Project Homeless Connect (PHC).

On June 13th and 14th, our entire Administrative Complex will be overrun by more than 30 social service providers who are committed to offering their services to anyone who is homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. In the following days, I will provide more information regarding the 4th annual PHC. There is so much being offered that it is easier to break things up into smaller, more digestible tidbits to force-feed you the whole enchilada at once.

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you this summer!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

VA 2K Walk & Roll!

I will never be confused for an Olympic triathlete... let me get that out of the way right now so I don't fool anyone who doesn't know me. If you do know me, hopefully you have stopped rolling on the floor in fits of laughter and will continue to read this quick blog.

On Wednesday, May 15th, I will be competing (and I use that term lightly) for a great cause. I like great causes but I detest completion that involves sweating. My goal is to inspire all of you to come out and be a part of this soon-to-be-mentioned event. You DO NOT HAVE TO BE A RUNNER OR EVEN PARTICULARLY ATHLETIC!!! Okay, I'm finished yelling and will happily pass on the information.

The Kalispell Veterans Affairs is hosting a 2K "Walk or Roll" next week to benefit homelessness while promoting health and wellness. Since we are not Canadians and we use miles, this translates to just over 1.2 of them and you don't even have to run. Just completing it will give you self esteem to last the rest of your life and will also benefit our veterans.

There is no registration fee, but it would be great if you would consider bringing a donation to drop off. Nonperishable food, clothing, prepaid phone cards, buss passes, or anything else that tickles your fancy would be greatly appreciated. This is not mandatory, though. Participation is open to the entire community and we would love to see a massive hoard of people swarm this event.

We will begin at 11am in front of the Samaritan House Administration Center, which is the old Armory on the corner of Meridian and 2nd Street West (across the street from Pederson Elementary School). The course will follow the Rails to Trails walking path and water and snacks will be provided. Prizes will be raffled off at the end for those who participated.

Please come out and support this nationwide event that will be unfolding right here in Kalispell! For more information, please contact Karen Blackbird at 758-2700. Edit: lunch will not be provided, and the VA apologizes for this.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eye Trouble

It seems like the traffic light is broken and permanently stuck on red. You feel as if your car has been mired in the same place for an eternity as the gentleman standing in the median next to you uncomfortably shifts his gaze from the ground to your window. His sign is worn thin and the message  seems suspect but its difficult to determine what's truth and what is fiction. All you know is that you're beginning to squirm in your seat and fiddle with the radio even though its not on. You maintain a calm exterior but are screaming on the inside for that light to turn. Finally you're absolved by a shade of green that couldn't have arrived any sooner.

I think we've all experienced moments like this. We are confronted by a tenuous situation and we become conflicted regarding how we should respond. What is the right thing to do? Is there a right thing to do? My intention is not to be an advocate for giving money to sign holders. But that feeling that envelopes us in situations like this is an indicator for self-reflection. It's a signal that reminds us that all is not right with the world and things cannot improve until we make a conscious decision to contribute toward a solution.

It doesn't have to be financial either. I won't lie and say that Samaritan House is not interested in monetary contributions. When people give to us, it allows the lights to stay on the heat to keep flowing on these cold February nights. We are a nonprofit and your cash helps in countless ways. But we also value donations of perishable goods and clothing items, too. We have a food pantry that is stocked by donations and a free clothing room for our residents to select what they need to survive in the elements. And we can always use help if people are willing to volunteer their time. Various projects are always cropping up and we seldom have the staff to fulfill all the things we need.

Thanks for remembering us. The next time you want to get involved in addressing the homeless situation in the Flathead Valley, we will be glad to partner with you. Albert Einstein once defined insanity as the process of doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. If you find that you you have a desire to help out but have been unsure about how to contribute, please feel free to call us am we will be honored to let you know what you can do to help out.