Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Labor of Days

Does it seem a bit odd to celebrate a day honoring labor by not working? And, extrapolating one absurd idea by piggybacking it onto a blog dedicated to the plight of many people who are historically unemployed, seems even stranger. Right?

Not so fast, my friend. In fact, Labor Day is the ideal day to remember those around us who are looking for work. The whole notion and history of this holiday screams redemption as it pays homage to some of the greatest American attributes: tenacity, morality, and a right to self-determination. This amazing day arose from the ashes of one of our darkest eras- the throes of an impersonal Industrial Revolution- that valued profit and economic wealth over human dignity, safety, and the right to make a fair wage.

In the late 1800s, most Americans worked 12-hour days for six or seven days in order to scrape together a meager living. And in spite of restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in textile mills, factories and coal mines across the country, eking out a fraction of what the adults made. Immigrants were also victim of a vicious labor structure that enslaved them once they began running up debts to company stores and tenement slumlords. In addition to these factors, workers also faced unsafe working conditions with few sanitary facilities or breaks.

After a series of reforms were finally made, built upon the backs of progressive agents, strikes, riots, and countless protests, change finally came and working conditions slowly improved as the beginning of the 20th century dawned. Things were far from perfect (and still are) but were heading in the right direction. All because people refused to accept a system that held them captive rather than providing financial freedom. And today we celebrate Labor Day as a reminder that we do not have to live in a world run by puppeteers who pull our strings and make us dance to their own symphonies. If we truly want to improve our situations, we have resources and access to tools to do so.

We can vote. We can look out for each other. We can chip away at the obstacles creating homelessness. We can present an opportunity for others to have a future based on what was accomplished in the past.

With high unemployment being a major contributing factor to homelessness in America, it is our hope that children born into cycles of homelessness can also rise above their environments. The right to a good education and proper nutrition is just the beginning of a world that does not have to be debilitating. College or career training must be a realistic hope and goal if future generations are to raise their own flags on their own Labor Days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


When I was a kid, I loved reading comic books and the people I looked up to the most were fictional characters dedicated to saving the world. All sorts of (super)humans possessing all manner of powers. I would get lost in the stories and plots and no matter how hard I closed my eyes and attempted to wish their existence into reality, that world vaporized whenever I closed the book and I was rudely used back into the real world.

Trends come and go in cycles and the past few years have seen a major resurgence of the whole comic book hero genre. The silver screen is once more churning out reincarnated versions of old heroes and iconic figures are coming out of retirement to entertain old fans while captivating new ones. Movies offer us a form of escapism, a way to immerse ourselves into a different universe for a few hours. And superhero flicks allow us to imagine a world where evil is confronted by amazing (but often flawed) people who are doing their best to resolve difficult situations in less than 2 hours.

I think one of the defining moments when our adolescence becomes a little less childlike is when we stop believing in these types of heroes. Something changes in us when we admit that no one is going to ride in and save the day; Gotham is vulnerable and we are saddened by the memory of saviors who never really existed in the first place. We realize if this world is going to be saved then we are the ones who need to do it.

And doesn't that really make US the superheroes?

As I grew older, my heroes began to evolve into people who held much less glamorous roles. Wolverine was replaced by food bank workers and Spider-Man took a back seat to the volunteers at the homeless shelter. The men and women I know working in social services truly deserve the accolades I once lauded upon the characters from my comic books. They are heroes because they are affecting change in a world mired in a stagnant state. They don't wear capes or masks or have retractable claws, but they go to battle every day on behalf of people who need help.

And that is the gist of the superhero mythology, right? Seemingly normal people who take on monstrous tasks to assist others. In a way, all of us can take a turn or two at living this lifestyle. Whether we volunteer or donate money or simply fill a specific need we see in our community, we can truly change people's lives.

And that is a super thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014


I am not a doctor. I've never played one on television and, if I'm honest, I didn't even particularly enjoy Doogie Howser when I was a kid. Most medical shows confused me with their barrage of technical and medical terms. The only time I ever really understood anything when I watched E.R. was when someone would manically shout, "STAT!" when they needed something immediately.

Recently, I was at a conference when the keynote speaker stated something that really caught my attention. He didn't bog his lecture down with tedious terminology and for that, I am thankful. He was talking about how trauma effects the brain's ability to make clear decisions. And even though he was speaking in an educational context, the application and connection to homelessness is relevant. Homelessness is an existence mired in trauma and stress. The very nature of a transient lifestyle demands instability as the one constant that can be expected.

Long periods of homelessness can wear down an individual's ability to assess life and make decisions that are beneficial. Rather than having the coping mechanisms that afford clarity of thought, constant stress can lead to an erosion of some of the brain's most important functions. It is easy to pass judgment on people who's situations make no sense to us. Many times we see chronically homeless men and women and wonder how they let themselves fall into such ruts.

But if we reexamine this attitude and take into account the amount of stress and trauma one might experience living a life of extended homelessness, perhaps we can find some empathy. Especially when we consider homeless children and the impact these factors can have toward debilitating their own decision-making. The cognitive ability of children is a fluid process and the brain requires the right conditions if it is going to develop properly. Poor nutrition and lack of sleep are two factors that can hinder a child's thought process, and by adding trauma or stress to the equation, many homeless children face an uphill battle.

Stability is just one tool that can contribute to a less stressful life for people children. Simple things like knowing there will be enough food for breakfast and money to cover rent and utilities can ease the mind and reduce the chaos. Our hope at Samaritan House is to have an environment conducive to playing a role that eliminates stress for all our residents. We do our best to move past clichés and actually provide a place where people can regroup, refocus, and then relaunch back into society.

So, it seems all of us can play an integral role in helping others even if we have never been a doctor or even played one on TV.

Monday, August 18, 2014

School Daze

Throughout the annuls of time, there have been three words that most kids have dreaded more than any other. Three little words that have struck fear into the hearts and minds of children from New Mexico to Nepal; from Alabama to Algeria; from Kalispell to Kalamazoo:

Back. To. School.

We can argue how educational strategies have evolved over the years and how the intent, purpose, and function of schools have morphed. But no matter how and why the logistics and semantics change, it seems most kids are just not as excited as their parents when late August rolls around and they are hoarded back into classrooms for another 9-month term.

Kids don't like school because it limits their autonomy and freedom. It forces structure and demands they follow a regiment and schedule that they have been unlearning since the last bell rang in May. Just when they get the hang of 'doing nothing,' it is suddenly time to abdicate their summer thrones and march toward the gallows of Geometry and Social Studies. Now, to be fair, I will admit there are some kids who enjoy school and can't (secretly) wait for the summer to end so they can (secretly) hit the books again. But these children are the outliers and not the norm. I was NOT one of these kids.

Over the years, I've found that many homeless kids often look forward to school for the very reason other kids dread it. For children who are accustomed to the chaos and unpredictability of a homeless lifestyle, the stability and regiment of school offers comfort. For exactly 8 hours a day, these kids know they will have access to functioning restrooms, hot food, education, structure, companionship, and protection. Imagine a world where nothing is permanent and then insert a block of time where you could have access to mentorship and dignity. For some kids, 'back to school' means reemergence into society.

It is important to have good schools and teachers who care about more than their lesson plans. After-school programs can even extend opportunities to children who might not get the chance to participate in activities suck as sports or music or art. Schools become an instrumental part of the community because they can foster hope and a sense of purpose in children who have been been void of such sentiment. Going back to school for some kids is one of the greatest experiences of their life. Weird. I never would have imagined that a few years ago.

... Who knows what I will imagine a few years from now?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Every Day, a Holiday!

Happy National Thrift Store Day! (Well, at least in a few days, but more on this a little later...)

A couple hundred years ago, when America defied the odds and defeated the British to win independence, we won the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But our celebratory attitude didn't stop with the bill of rights and the constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Over the years, we have honed and crafted our drafting skills, culminating with a society that literally has a holiday for each day of the year.

Some are traditional and we join with the rest of the world (Christmas, Kwanza Ramadan, Hanukkah, just to name a few) in celebration. These are the days everyone has circled on their calendar, or at least highlighted on their Google account. But, in the spirit of American excess, we have also gone above and beyond in constructing holidays to honor just about everything.

October 4- National Frappé Day. Who doesn't enjoy these tasty, refreshing treats. If any dessert item warranted a day of homage, truly frappés top the list, right?

March 14- National Pi Day. Okay, all you math nerds, live it up by celebrating 3.14.... The number that never ends accompanied by jokes that also never seem to end.

September 30- National Mud Pack Day. If you are the type of person inclined to cover your body with mud, but too embarrassed to admit it, then this day is for you! Wallow away with no pangs of guilt because everyone else is doing it on this day, too.

November 17- National Facebook Unfriend Day. Purge your account of all those faux-friends you have been dying to cyber-eliminate. Status update: you've been deleted.

May 1- Loyalty Day. Hmm.... This attribute only gets one day? Does this mean the other 364 days are unofficially 'disloyalty' days?

August 17- National Thrift Store Day. I bring this up because I have shopped at thrift stores for years. I've purchased clothing, furniture, cutlery, and just about every other item one can think of. Over the years, it has even become fashionable and trendy to hit up thrift stores for vintage items and that 'authentic worn-out look.' People peruse the aisles, looking for great things at bargain prices.

But for many, thrift stores have been places of necessity and not the hipster hangouts others have turned them into. Purchasing pre-worn clothing is a festive activity sandwiched in between Pilates and the coffee shop. The allure for many of these 'thriftees' is that shopping in thrift stores is a window into another culture. A world they can visit and then check out of when they hit the parking lot. There is nothing wrong with this and I'm not passing judgement, but for others this experience is a staple of their existence and not a trendy tryst.

Thrift stores fill a felt need in society because they allow people to still retain a sense of autonomy by selecting what they want and not having to take what is given. They empower people who often feel powerless.

So, the next time you venture into your local thrift store looking for something cool to wear or place on your mantle, remember that the person 2 aisles over might not share your exuberance. For them, excitement and novelty has been replaced by necessity.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pack to Help

How quickly the summer is evaporating into autumn. The air will soon acquire that certain crispness reminding us that winter is not too far off. The shadows will grow longer as the sun retires earlier and sweatshirts replace tank tops as the preferred article of clothing. And, for many, school is looming on the horizon.

We often have school-aged children at Samaritan House. Over the past years, we have written quite a few articles addressing the difficulties homeless kids have in regard to school. The emotional and physical tolls are extensive and there is another issue that often makes the journey back to school fearful and trepidatious: a lack of proper supplies. Many homeless children lack the basic resources needed to begin the year on a positive note. This is an area that is easy to remedy and you can play an important role.

The following items would be greatly appreciated. You can call the office for more information or just drop by with any of the following items. Every little bit helps and we are appreciative for your donations.

Three-ring binders
Wide-ruled paper
8 pack markers
24 count crayons

Thank you for your consideration in helping kids prepare for their future by not allowing school to become a terrifying place. You are investing in the lives and dreams of children who will play a role in changing this world. backpack at a time.