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."