Monday, September 29, 2014

The Damage of Violence

A few nights ago I spent nearly 2 hours watching television, switching the channels back and forth between various sports and news networks. The content was nearly interchangeable as the main stories focused on two NFL players who are being scrutinized for alleged domestic violence; one for knocking his fiancé out and the other for bearing his four-year old child with a switch until there were marks left on the child's legs.

My fifth grade daughter was in the room, drawing. Finally, after a few minutes, she spoke up and asked why these men would hurt people they were supposed to love and protect. It's a simple question with no solitary answer. I'm not going to comment on why a man would beat a woman or child (or another man) except to say that the individual committing the violence is a coward and degenerate and the act is indefensible. There is NO justifiable reason to knock out a woman with a deliberate punch to the face or to beat a child with an foreign object until the child bleeds. Or at all.

If these instances can draw attention to issues of domestic violence, then perhaps people who wouldn't regularly pay attention or care might be stirred to do something. In the coming days, I will post some statistics and data relating to domestic violence in America. Many of our residents have been victims of this topic and some have chosen to leave their situations and face the prospects of homelessness rather than continue to have their lives (and the lives of their children in many cases) threatened.

When you donate to Samaritan House, you are helping people you will never meet, but who are embracing an uncertain future rather than remain in violent situations. Please take some time to consider how you might play a role in changing the lives of people dealing with an issue that too often places an emphasis on the violent perpetrator and not the innocent victims.

Thursday, September 25, 2014



Recently, I was speaking to a group of middle school students who were writing essays about this issue and a young lady asked me if there was a space between the words 'home' and 'less.' I answered her and then continued with the topic, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about her question. It wasn't particularly profound and her intent was not to provoke a larger discussion; she had a spelling question, plain and simple.

But the more I thought about the phrasing, I began to realize there is a gap between the the two words. It has nothing to do with the spelling and everything to do with the perception. Being homeless and home-less are two very different things.

Home-less implies the problem is a lack of housing. This is easily identifiable and actually not difficult to address or solve. If a family or individual is home-less, the issue is remedied by providing or helping them secure a home. On a base level, the intimate variables are removed and the narrative is less about people and more focused on habitats. Drywall and foundations are needed. If a physical structure can be built, the problem of being home-less goes away. Home-lessness is characterized by building permits and zoning regulations and solved by construction projects and housewarming parties. If this were the brunt of the conversation, we could well be on our way to ending an American epidemic.

Unfortunately, homelessness lacks the hyphen or open space separating the two words. Homelessness is a snare often predicated upon a set of circumstances not easily fixed. Its systemic nature can engulf entire generations, making self-reliance impossible even if it desired. Children born into poverty have a higher likelihood of not finishing high school. The high dropout rate can be accomplished by illegal activity and higher instances of single-parent households. When kids don't finish school, college becomes unlikely and lower-paying jobs become a reality.

Homelessness and poverty can be cyclical because they are handed down from one generation to the next. Living paycheck to paycheck is difficult enough, and when finances are depleted unexpectedly due to any number of emergencies, homelessness is only a step away. This problem is not absolved with any brick and mortar dwelling. Addressing the conditions causing poverty... lack of education, expensive health care, abysmal living wage conditions, just to name a few... will be the key to eliminating homelessness.

I'm thankful for occasional spelling errors because they make me think.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eating Cheaply!

Many of our residents are forced to shop and cook on a budget. And while frugality might be a relative term, I did some research to see if I could find some hearty meals at at an inexpensive cost. I realize prices may vary and it might take coupons to reach the target for these 3 meals, but the overall price-point for each meal is still very affordable, especially when each meal serves 6 to 8 people. Enjoy!

And for more great meals, please feel free to call Samaritan House and inquire about our cookbook, Come to the Table.

Chicken Pot Pie
Pie Crusts for two pies ($1)
4 T. Butter ($.50)
1/4 cup Flour ($.02)
1 tsp. salt ($.05)
1/2 tsp. thyme ($.05)
1/2 tsp. pepper ($.05)
2 c. chicken broth (free)
1/2 c. milk ($.07)
2 cups chicken, cooked and cubed ($2)
3 large potatoes diced and boiled for about 10 minutes ($1)
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables ($1)

Preheat oven to 400. Line 2 pie plates with crust. Melt butter in a large skillet over low heat and stir in flour, and seasonings. Cook until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in milk and broth. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly for one minute. Stir in chicken and veggies. Pour half of each mixture into each pie crust. Top with the second pie crust. Bake on cookie sheet 40-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Price for two large pies $5.74, serves 8

Chicken Noodle Soup
1 tablespoon butter ($.10)
2/3 cup chopped onion ($.25)
2/3 cup chopped celery ($.25)
3 cups chicken broth (free)
2 cups chopped chicken ($2)
3 cups egg noodles ($.30)
1-1/3 cups sliced carrots ($.40)
1 teaspoon dried basil ($.05)
1 teaspoon dried oregano ($.05)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Cook onion and celery in butter until just tender, 5 minutes. Pour in broth and stir in chicken, noodles, carrots, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Add water until all the ingredients are covered with liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes before serving. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.

Total cost for soup $3.45, serves 8

Mexican Skillet
1/2 cup chopped onion ($.20)
1 TBS olive oil ($.25)
1 TBS minced garlic ($.10)
Chopped chicken breast (I would use whatever I had leftover from the whole chicken)
1 can corn, drained ($.50)
1 can black beans, drained ($.50)
3 cups cooked brown or white rice (when making your rice decrease the amount of water by about 1/2 cup and add 1 cup of salsa) ($.50)

Coat large frying pan with olive oil. Saute onions and garlic. Add chicken, beans and corn. When everything has been heated through add the cooked rice. Serve immediately. Top with sour cream, or serve with shredded jack cheese on a tortilla.

Total cost for Mexican Skillet $2.05, serves 6 to 8

*Recipes courtesy of Toni at The Happy Housewife.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reality Bites

There is an old adage that declares,"perception is reality." The gist of the message relays the sentiment that what you see is what you get. I am not a big fan of this philosophy because it eliminates the context surrounding a situation. Over the years, I've learned when dealing with people there is much more to a person than what befalls my eyes. And while it might be human nature to judge by appearances, understanding the entirety of a person's story allows us to see that reality is just part of a journey.

We see an old man napping in a chair at the public library. His eyes are closed and his breathing is even and measured. His hands are folded on his lap. We deduce he is simply wasting time until the library closes and he is force to leave the sanctuary provided to him by taxpayer money. The reality is that he has been up since the early morning hours, waiting for a computer to become available so he can work on his résumé. After 3 hours, a spot opened up and he meticulously tidied up the final few lines of a paper that will hopefully allow him reentry into the job market.

We see an thirty-something woman on the bus with two unruly kids making life miserable for everyone else. She blankly stares forward while the children tug at each other and disrupt the silence that usually accompanies the ride. It is apparent the vacant manner of her detached reality is due to a drug habit she refuses to address. The reality is that her husband died two weeks ago and her world has been thrown into a nightmarish existence of grief, shock, and weighted responsibility. The bus ride allows her to save money on gas that she now must contribute toward day care so she can work a second job.

We see a person holding a sign. The tattered cardboard declares he his hungry and homeless and would be happy to work for a meal. His shadow casts a long silhouette as the sun melts behind the storefronts and change rattles around in his tin can with each pitied deposit. The reality is that he served 2 tours and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Assimilating back into civilian life has been chaotic and debilitating. He worked long hours at a mill but was unable to receive the treatment he needed so his employment was terminated.

Perception is not reality.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Importance of Adaptation

My battery is nearly depleted. I'm frantically punching the keys to produce a few lines before my screen goes black and ends my time. The little icon in the upper corner of my screen is straddling the line between solidity and blinking. Any second it might turn red to warn me that I'm in single digits. What an inopportune time for me to take a minute or two and reminisce about the good 'ol days when all my writing originated on a Brother 3000 Word Processor with a pop-up screen and a floppy disc.

I suppose I could have drawn from a thousand memories to make an analogy about how quickly time passes and we must deal with deal with change. For some reason it seems appropriate to stick with this one. I love writing and the evolution of this process has forced me adapt to the technology involved and accept that nostalgia has been replaced with necessity. Fortunately, I have been afforded the opportunities and abilities to change with the times and keep current with the trends in this field. Writing on my tablet is now my default setting and is as normal and comfortable as the huge PCs I hid behind in the 1990s.

According to my battery, I now have 8% to convey my point.

Adapting to ever-changing technology is difficult for many of the elderly homeless. While many of us have the advantage of taking classes or utilizing on the job training, this is not the case for people who live a transient or unsettled existence. A lack of education proves difficult to overcome because they lack the very basic skills needed to even apply for educational opportunities. It is a horrific experience when a person feels so far behind normal, daily trends that they give up and withdraw from trying to find a career and settle for a job.

And while I believe honest work is noble and any legal means of making money contributes to society, many elderly homeless must settle for low-paying jobs because they are intimidated by technology and don't believe they possess the ability to assimilate into a contemporary workforce.

... 4% left.

It is important for the elderly to receive adequate training so they can improve their chances to find work that will allow them to make enough to do more than merely survive. It is important for our elderly to be able to change with the times and not have to settle for jobs that do not put them in positions to succeed and flourish.

Just because I'm running out of time doesn't mean they have to.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Last Best Place

Montana is an amazing place. The lure of the Treasure State beckons anyone willing to work hard in order to earn a well-deserved amount of recreation. We have a history rooted in progressive ideas and blue-collar determination. For many, Montana has been a place to escape other environments, while others flock here looking for inclusive communities to fill a longing in their lives. Big Sky country is territorially massive, yet personally intimate.

Lately, I have noticed Montana has garnered quite a national following due to quite a few television shows. There have been reality show winners, bounty hunters, zombie hunters, mountain men, doomsday preppers, and restaurant makeovers all making their respective cases to entertain and inform the rest of the country about life in Montana. Dare we say that a state once lauded for seclusion and privacy has become a trendy piece of the national Americana pie?

The Last Best Place is morphing into the First Destination Place and I think we have an amazing opportunity to showcase our tenacity toward eliminating homelessness. And Kalispell has an excellent forum to lead this charge. As the homeless make their way into the Flathead Valley and settle in before winter settles upon us, Samaritan House does all it can to help be as prepared as possible. There are fewer things as potentially brutal as a harsh Montana winter night so we welcome all donations that will help us equip our residents and those who are merely passing through and need a place to stay for a while due to unforeseen circumstances.

We are continually humbled by the generosity of this community and we appreciate every donation that enables us to keep the lights and heat on. We are thankful for all the contributions allowing us to put food on the table. As temperatures slowly begin to drop and each night feels a little cooler than the one before, we are thankful for what Montanans truly are.

After the cameras have turned off and the television producers wrap up their final shoots of the season, the heart of this state continues to shine. In situations of true need and dire circumstances, we can count on each other for help. Thank you for all you do for Samaritan House.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Open For Business

Advertising is a tricky game. We live in a society where businesses and firms do all they can to wrestle sales away from the competition. What separates the really great companies from others is an ability to create a desire for a product and then wrap it in a catchy slogan or memorable jingle. Something that gets caught in our head and simply will not go away no matter how badly we try to forget it. An important goal in marketing is to show others they need what you have.

Recently, I was driving through a city (which shall remain nameless but could literally be Anywhere, USA) when I noticed a building with 13 enormous letters plastered to the front. Advertising, right? If a business is going to mount 2 large words across the front of its building, it should entice passer-byers to stop and check it out.

So I did.

Upon entering, I immediately realized I was the victim of a classic bait-and-switch operation and what was unfolding in front of me was nothing like the advertised slogan outside. My expectations were not met and if I had paid an entrance fee, I would have demanded it back. There were quite a few people milling around, talking to the employees, but no one else seemed as indignant as I was. They were obviously tricked into stopping by and needed someone of my ilk to show them they had been bamboozled.

After several failed attempts at starting conversations, I grew weary because no one was paying attention to me. It was almost like they were ignoring me. What a lousy business model.

Eventually, I cornered one of the employees and began to direct my ire at him. I told him they could not slather that slogan across their building because it was misleading. I told him they were creating false expectations. I told him they were promising something that was not realistic and people deserved better than to arrive and have their dreams crushed. I painted such a logical and rational argument for my case that Lincoln and Douglas were both doing 360s in their respective graves, applauding my efforts.

I was the champion of the people that afternoon and there was certainly no way the employee could squirm his way out of my grasp. I looked forward to the foolishness of his impending response. But then he explained something that floored me.

The slogan, he said, applied to the employees more than those who came inside. It was the people working there who could not escape the immeasurable grasp of the motto. The very patrons who showed up because of the slogan often (and usually unintentionally) were the ones who advanced the company mantra. While the 13 large letters served as a beacon to attract people, it was the employees who benefited from their interaction with the public. The man went on to tell me quite a few stories about how his life had been changed simply because he worked there. He felt indebted to those coming in because those coming in enriched his life.

As I drove away a few hours later, the backwards slogan in my rear view mirror stated an old slogan that I now viewed with a fresh perspective:

Rescue Mission.