Friday, March 21, 2014

7th Annual "Cowboy Up" for Samaritan House Benefit

The music might be the best part of the evening. Hundreds of people enjoy the food. Maybe the items should take top-billing. Or, perhaps the cause outshines everything as we have another opportunity to gather together to embrace a struggle facing too many of our fellow Montanans. A chance to raise finances to address the needs of the homeless in Kalispell is as worthy a cause you can find.

It is Samaritan House's honor and privilege to extend an open invitation to the entire community to participate in our 7th Annual Cowboy Up Auction. You may call our office or stop by the shelter to purchase tickets to this wonderful event. We look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Johnny Cash and the Homeless

There are few things more annoying than having a song stuck in your head that will just not go away. Recently, I was out hiking with my family and something happened that set an entire chain reaction in motion, beginning with a sound, involving a song, and culminating with an idea.

Even though I am not an especially avid outdoorsman (okay, I actually hide from nature whenever possible), a few days ago I found myself traversing a couple trails and enjoying the luxury of allowing my mind to wander while I hoped to avoid picking up Lyme disease. The wind was careening through the trees and the sun was doing its best to heat things up as we idly plodded along. At first the noise was faint but eventually it became evident that a train was announcing itself somewhere in the vicinity. This whistle led to Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues embedding itself in my brain and there was no shaking it no matter how hard I tried.

I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when.

The hike that led to a sound that led to a song now led to a thought: Homelessness might be aptly characterized by these lyrics. A great many of our residents at Samaritan House ended up homeless because of circumstances or situations that literally hit them like a runaway locomotive. Unemployment or unexpected bills leading to eviction or foreclosure; medical expenses or domestic violence forcing people from their homes. Any of these can propel a person or family directly into homelessness at any time.

Often, we don't see it coming around the bend until its too late.

Society tends to judge the symptoms of homelessness without addressing the causes. An unkept transient sleeping in the park is easier to identify than the lack of affordable housing preventing him from securing a place to live. Its more manageable to see a woman on a corner holding a sign than it is to peel back the layers and realize she lost her kids to Social Services because she worked 2 jobs and had no one to stay home with them during the night because she couldn't afford childcare.

The train keeps a-rollin'.

As we continue to work on our Five Year Plan to end homelessness in Kalispell, we are doing all we can to part the clouds and allow a little sunshine in. It is our hope and desire that you will partner with us and help us eliminate more than the symptoms of homelessness. We want to do more than provide bandages or make mere cosmetic improvements. Thank you for your past help and all you do to provide us with the finances and resources we require to hit the brakes on such an imposing runaway train.

If you would like to make a financial donation to Samaritan House, please stop by our office or feel free to call. We cannot do this without your help.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sunshine and Conversation

A few days ago I was enjoying what can only be defined as a meteorological anomaly: It was sunny and warm and for a few moments I ignored the idea that it will likely be snowing in day or two. For a few fleeting hours I pretended Spring was sprung and had been replaced by Summer. It was a nice feeling that was magnified by an even nicer scene I watched transpire across the street.

From my vantage point in the building where I was conducting some business, I had a direct line of sight out the window and could see a homeless man seated on the adjacent street corner. He wasn't holding a sign or asking for anything, but he was making an attempt to converse with almost every person who crossed his path. The gentleman was not an imposing or menacing individual and he was neatly dressed and groomed. I had talked to him on a few prior occasions and always found him to be polite and affable.

As the pantomime unfolded across the busy street, I realized even thought my interactions with the man were few, every time we were finished talking I left the scene in a better mood. He was one of those guys who was genuinely concerned when he asked questions. While most of us frequently drift into an automated "how are you" greeting, *Jerry was actually curious when he asked. It was refreshing to meet someone who wanted nothing more than to talk. Since many of us are often suspicious of other people's ulterior motives, its always a treat to bump into someone who enjoys conversation for the sake of conversation.

I pleasantly watched the faces of the passer-byers as they encountered Jerry. The whole experience was enjoyable because I couldn't hear the exchange and had to rely on the facial expressions of the involved parties. I have had the privilege of working with the homeless for years and have long abandoned many preconceived ideas other people might still hold. And its not because I am a particularly enlightened fellow or more socially evolved than most primates. Its only because I've been able to spend time with them and had my life affected in very positive ways.

My voyeurism only lasted a few minutes before I was finished and on my way across the street to say hello to Jerry. I didn't monopolize his time because I didn't want to rob others of the wonderful experience of talking to him. As I walked away I couldn't help wondering how many others were having a better day simply because they bumped into Jerry. Without realizing or even trying, he was breaking down stereotypes and forcing people to confront their beliefs about the homeless.

I'm really thankful for sunny days.

*Not his real name

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Daylight Savings Time is Destroying the World!

Some things are a mystery to me.

Near the top of my list (sandwiched in between no one realizing the special sauce on a Big Mac might just be Thousand Island dressing and why aliens only abduct people who have appeared on an episode of Cops) is what happens to the hour of daylight savings time that magically disappears.

Poof. Its gone and no one ever talks about it or brings it up even though we all know it happens. Its like the weird relative we invite to a holiday meal: we have to deal with it but don't really want to acknowledge its part of our life. And after living through 30-some years of this phenomenon, I refuse to remain silent about all the wasted hours I have been robbed of. The way I see it (which definitely does not always equal reality), I should have an entire day owed to me because once a year 3am gets bypassed in order to pacify an outdated and unnecessary ritual dedicated to conserving war-time resources (here's where you look up the history of Daylight Savings Time).

But what would I do with an entire day all to myself? Most of us feel there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish all we need, so imagine if we could spend an entire 24 hour period doing whatever we wanted and not what we had to do. Here's the kicker: I think a lot of people would be confused and unnerved by having free time on their hands. We are so accustomed to our regimented lives and routines that we might not be able to function if we suddenly had nothing to do. Our coping mechanisms would be thrown off kilter and we might struggle with how we should appropriately kill time.

I propose this: we learn to relax and enjoy the company of our friends and families. Normally, I would suggest we try help others (say, by volunteering at your local homeless shelter) but I think I'll let you come to that conclusion on your own. Anyway, it seems we have too many people telling us to do too many things, so I don't want to be one more squeaky wheel in your life. Since life is short and we are losing time every year in the form of this dratted Daylight Savings, I hope you will take some time to slow down and participate in things that make you happy.

Drive, dance, paint, fish, hike, climb, write, sing, play, cook, sleep, run, swim... Just make sure you are doing what revitalizes you. And then, once you catch your breath and refocus on what truly matters (people, not schedules), you will be more useful to everyone around you.

And we can go back to figuring out where that missing hour slinks off to.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Will Spring ever Spring?

The calendar tells me there are only a few weeks left in winter.

I'm not sure I believe it, though, because recently it was only a few degrees below zero and I don't think the universal weather patterns and systems pummeling Montana really care what my wall calendar smugly adheres to. If you've lived in this state long enough, you know that fixed dates on your daily Far Side calendar are no more than depressing reminders that while the rest of the country might play along nicely, the Treasure State follows its own rules. Its going to be cold for a while longer.

During the winter, Montana is not a destination state for the homeless. Some states (Arizona, Nevada, California, and Florida) have a climate conducive to living outdoors from November to April. Montana is not one of them. Think about what it feels like to spend a few minutes each morning scraping the ice off your car before you go to work or school (or both!). Its not the most enjoyable experience, but at least its fleeting because you get to eventually get into your heated-up automobile and drive off in style and comfort. You are given a 23 and a half hour respite from performing this task again.

But what if you were living in a camp somewhere and were forced to endure the elements on a more consistent basis? Many of our residents, at one time in their life, found themselves dealing with this exact scenario. Whether they were living in a tent or camper or even someplace unintended for human habitation (under a bridge or outside), they hunkered down and weathered the snow, cold, and ice because they had no choice. Our shelter can only hold a certain amount of people and once that number is maxed out, there is no place for them to go.

One way we try to help these people is by providing supplies. We are always on the lookout for sleeping bags and gear that will help people survive outdoors in inclement weather. It is not uncommon for people to stop by and ask for supplies even if they aren't staying with us, and we do what we can to accommodate those in need. We rely greatly on the kindness and generosity of our supporters in the community. We gladly accept donations that can mean the difference between life and death for so many people in Montana.

If you are interested to donating supplies or finances, please drop the shelter and talk to us or call for more information. Thank you so much for your help!

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is the Opposite of Poverty?

"The opposite of poverty is not wealth; its justice."

I was watching television when I heard this comment, and my first reaction was to dismiss the statement because everyone knows that poverty and wealth are at the opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Wealth even helps define poverty by allowing the context which permits poverty to be noticed. As far as data and facts go, these two conditions are joined at the hip. Of course they are opposites... There you have it: case closed. After I had internally dismantled this argument in my head, I felt it was time to solve other existential problems so I went to my kitchen, fixed a sandwich, and began focusing my powers on world peace and the Pittsburgh Steelers inability to get into the playoffs.

But something was troubling me so I postponed utopia and the Super Bowl.

Maybe I had been too quick to render judgment on this idea. On the surface, the argument seems like simple logic: poverty and wealth are viewed as opposites because they are so far apart on the same sliding scale. However, the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind. Poverty and wealth might not be opposite as much as they are indicators for a system that produces both. They are symptoms, not structures. Perhaps it is fair to argue that justice is the opposite of poverty because if every person has the same rights it is unjust for people to live a life of not having enough (impoverishment) to meet their basic needs.

Please allow me some leeway. I am not declaring everyone deserves to be wealthy because morally obtained wealth often derives from hard work and effort. Inherited wealth must be maintained, which also requires some amount of work. My point is not to rail on hard-working people who have earned wealth. I am happy for them. But I do believe it is unjust for so many men, women, and children to live in a country where there are structures and obstacles in place that keep them in poverty. In a just society, people would have equal opportunities to not be prisoners of poverty.

Housing, education, health care, employment. These are not privileges. They are tools needed to survive and in a just world, no one would be deprived of access to any of them. Now, whether an individual chooses to refuse them is an entirely different matter. But my experience working with the homeless has shown me that most people living in poverty want more than just having these things: they want the opportunity to earn them. They want to participate in the same structure that provides wealth because it has been shut off to them for various reasons, some of which are results of self-destructive behavior, but more often than not, the reasons are not their fault. Circumstances too often dictate who is the recipient of harshness and deprevity.

Opportunity is everything for our residents. Justice is served every time they are allowed to improve their lot by hard work and the chance to participate in the community by working, living, and contributing like everyone else. Justice is demonstrated when people can make a living and earn wages that allow them to do more than survive week to week. Poverty is the opposite of justice because it stands for everything justice seeks to eliminate: opportunity.