Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last Post of the Year!!!

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this blog do not reflect my own resolutions. I am neither disciplined nor committed enough to think of, compile, or list any ideas for 2015. The goals listed below were taken from a national survey but the commentary provided is my own and I cannot blame anyone else. So, without further adieu...

New Years Resolution #1) Spend More Time with Family & Friends.
This is a great idea if your family's last name is Brady or Banks (think Fresh Prince) and a laugh-track accompanied all the hilarious hijinks you encountered each day. However, most of us live more in a 'Roseanne' type of world that forces us to accept and others, warts and all. Find the good things to focus on and remember love is often more of a decision than emotion.

New Years Resolution #2) Fit in Fitness.
Ah, the irony and hypocrisy as I write this from my recliner. The importance of exercise will yield short and long term benefits. And I promise to partake in this glorious idea as soon as I am finished with this blog (and the football game I am watching is over).

New Years Resolution #3) Tame the Bulge.
Like peas and carrots or meat and potatoes, this resolution partners with the above-mentioned goal to increase our quality of life. Perhaps we should supersize fewer things this year and remember that, while inner beauty is definitely more important than its outer counterpart, it is still okay to take pride in our appearance.

New Years Resolution #4) Quit Smoking.
Um... Nothing witty to add here. Just stop smoking so you can live a longer and healthier life. Also, how many world class decathletes do you know who smoke 2 packs a day? Also, this is great advice if you want to be a world class decathlete.

New Years Resolution #5) Enjoy Life More.
Jump. Run. Sing. Paint. Cook. Dance. Write. Hike. Swim. Debate. Learn. Stop being afraid and realize this is the only life you have and if you live an inhibited existence, you are robbing yourself. Do something that surprises everyone you know and makes them scratch their collective heads while trying to figure out what is wrong with you (by the way... NOTHING).

New Years Resolution #6) Quit Drinking Too Much.
Not trying to be preachy here, but the effects of alcohol abuse are devastating on the entire community.

New Years Resolution #7) Get Out of Debt.
Okay, this one is easier said than done, but at least take steps toward this. What are the things in our lives we can reprioritize? Think before spending. Is something a want or a need? Just because something is on QVC or an Amazon Daily Deal does not mean you have to have it. Remember that Snuggie collecting dust in your closet?

New Years Resolution #8) Learn Something New.
I'll even help you with this one! Try learning a different language because you will have an endless amount of fun once you bump into the one other person in the Valley who speaks Swahili. However, if languages are not your forte, then stretch yourself by being a continual learner in another area.

New Years Resolution #9) Help Others.
Not because its a tax deduction or looks good on a résumé. Not so you can tell others about your exploits or benevolence. Help others because you have, at one time and to some degree, received help and now its time to remember that. Help others because they have innate value as human beings and it is the right thing to do.

New Years Resolution #10) Get Organized.
Wow. This one is no fun. What kind of sick and twisted person values organization over chaos!? I suggest you begin with your sock drawer and master that black hole before moving on to greater and grander efforts. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.

So, there you have it. A list worthy of mounting on any refrigerator and ignoring until the spring, when its time to purge the doors and hang takeout menus and your kid's school art projects. But, whatever resolutions you make... Happy New Year, from the staff at Samaritan House!

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Worthy Resolution

If you know anything about youth homelessness, you know that we’re still a long way from ending it. But looking back on 2014, you can also see that we have advanced, slowly but surely, in the right direction. While communities around the country still struggle with mounting a youth-inclusive Point-in-Time Count, we’ve seen more commitment at the federal level, from both legislators and agencies. Though the slow pace can be frustrating, momentum is building, and we’ve got many reasons to be hopeful for the future.

One of the persistent obstacles to developing solutions to youth homelessness is the difficulty in obtaining an accurate count of homeless youth. In 2013, communities finally included unaccompanied youth in their Point-in-Time (PIT) counts, which meant we were finally able to include homeless youth in our 2014 State of Homelessness report. The 2014 PIT Count was not perfect, but some communities did a fantastic job.

This year also marked the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), the only piece of federal legislation devoted exclusively to youth homelessness. The Act expired in September 2013, but this year Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote legislation that would not just reauthorize it, but improve upon it. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill, but reauthorization is unlikely to happen this congressional session.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, the Families and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) proposed significant changes to RHYA programs that would increase their capacity to serve homeless youth as well as their flexibility in providing services and coordinating with communities. FYSB also released findings from its study of youth served by street outreach programs in 11 cities and facilitated an inspiring #BecauseofRHYA social media campaign to highlight the impact of RHYA in its 40th anniversary year.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), officials provided some much needed clarity on HUD’s eligibility criteria for homeless children and youth that described conditions by which a homeless youth’s housing circumstances may qualify him or her for HUD homeless assistance services.

No doubt about it, as we move into 2015, we still have so much work to do. (This country still doesn’t have anywhere near enough shelter beds to keep homeless youth off the streets.) But we are seeing the commitment to end youth homelessness growing all across the country, influenced, led, and informed by the voices of homeless youth themselves. It is an exciting time to be doing this work, and we look forward to even more progress in the New Year. Thousands of homeless kids around the country deserve it!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Samaritan House wishes a very merry Christmas and happy Chanukah to everyone in Kalispell, the Flahead Valley, and beyond. Please take this day to reflect upon all the things we have to be grateful for and to appreciate the kindness extolled to us by others.

Enjoy the people in your lives who bring you joy and comfort and remember those who have come and gone but still remain in your heart. We are honored tho stand with you as the Flathead Valley's ambassador to the homeless and we thank you for all you've done for us over this past year.

So, on behalf of Samaritan House's staff and residents, please have a wonderful holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Eve

The apartment on the corner was sparsely decorated. Aside from a couch, small breakfast table, and a used dresser, there was nothing of significance. Each evening when the sun retired, the streetlight silently stood sentry on the corner and illuminated her bedroom with the only consistency she knew.

She wrangled together a daily schedule that allowed her to shuffle between two jobs while still making time for her two children. Without the help of her mom, she would need childcare that she couldn't afford and every saved dime allowed her to give her kids the Christmas she wanted them to have. This year the holidays were a mixed blessing. A new start in life was represented by the apartment they called home. Having spent the better part of the year in a shelter, she now appreciated things she never noticed before. Hangers and coffee tables and working refrigerators; everything was seen through a new grid this Christmas.

The lessons learned through deprivation had blossomed into a life of true charity and thankfulness. People threw around Yuletide slogans like life vests on a sinking ship, but these mantras were truly important and genuine to her.

Peace on earth was not merely political. Every time she tucked her children into bed she experienced a sense of peace and satisfaction no treaty could ever broker. Being together was a gift and providing for them meant she was breaking a cycle of dependence upon others.

Happy holidays were not limited to superficial exchanges passed along crowed streets. The joy she experienced transcended receipts and wrapping paper. It came from within because it was not tied to material possessions that would eventually need to be replaced.

Goodwill to mankind was not a wish, but a reality. It was up to her to perpetuate this idea. If the world was going to be a better place then she would have to do her part because relying on others was too risky. This philosophy of kindness would be taught and passed down to her own children.

The nightlight in the bedroom of the sparsely decorated apartment finally went out as Eve reflected on all that was important to her as she drifted to sleep. Christmas and the holiday season were encapsulated not by reindeer or mistletoe or Frosty reruns.

The true meaning of charity and peace and goodwill were tucked into bed in the next room. Values passed down.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Homeless Veterans

Every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities across the country do a one-night count of its sheltered homeless population, and every other year requires that communities conduct a count of the unsheltered population.

The idea is to figure out where homelessness is going up and where it’s going down. This gives us a sense which communities are most effective in fighting homelessness, as well as where we should target our resources in order to make the biggest impact. The count includes data on a variety of subpopulations, including adults, youth, families, and veterans.

This country is an incredible place to live, largely, because of the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans. Samaritan House is proud of its programs dedicated to housing and assisting Montana's veterans. Here’s a quick a look at what the recently released 2014 data says about trends in veteran homelessness, nationally.

On a single night in January 2014, nearly 50,000 veterans were homeless. That’s about 9 percent of the total homeless population.

From 2013 to 2014, the number of homeless veterans decreased nationally by 10.5 percent, with 28 states reducing their total veteran populations.

The national rate of veteran homelessness decreased: in 2013, there were 27.3 homeless veterans for every 10,000 veterans; in 2014, there were 25.5 homeless veterans for every 10,000 veterans. The decrease in homeless veterans was the largest decrease of any subpopulation counted!

In 2014, 36 percent of all homeless veterans were unsheltered, meaning they were sleeping in a place unfit for human habitation (such as on the street or in an abandoned building). Because the national rate of unsheltered homelessness is 31 percent, that means that homeless veterans tend to be unsheltered more frequently than the general homeless population.

As America pushes forward in the effort to end veteran homelessness, each state must play a role. According to the Montana Homeless Survey, there were approximately 2,396 homeless veterans (and families) on the 2013 point-in-time survey. This number is representative of the entire state, from Glacier to Wibeaux. And while we hope to see a complete and total end to veteran homelessness, we understand that the process will take time.

Thank you for partnering with us as we take this challenge. Every donation and contribution you make is helpful and appreciated. Please help us give back to those who have already given so much to this country and our state.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Working Toward a Goal

2014 is living on borrowed time. As this year fades into the next, many of us begin to reflect on what has happen in our lives and what we want to change. Resolutions take center stage as we think about how to live differently; how to improve our situations. Something very important to us, at Samaritan House, is making sure hunger does not keep a crippling grasp of Montanans.

In 2013, 5 percent of households served by Feeding America programs, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, were homeless, and 27 percent of households served by Feeding America’s meal programs—such as kitchens and shelters—were homeless. The same year, The United States Conference of Mayors’ Hunger and Homelessness Survey found that 9 percent of all people who accessed food assistance in 25 cities across the country were homeless.

These figures might give you the impression that not very many homeless people receive food assistance, but consider this: less than 1 percent (0.19 percent to be precise) of all people in America is homeless, according to the 2014 Point-in-Time-Count. That means that the homeless population is drastically overrepresented among people who access food assistance.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that people who are homeless also tend to be hungry. According to the 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Survey and the National Coalition for the Homeless, many of the risk factors for hunger are the same as those that contribute to homelessness:

High cost of housing
Low wages
Medical or health care costs

In other words, homelessness and hunger often go hand-in-hand. So, while it is important to remember during the holidays that many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it’s just as important to remember this year-round. Neither homelessness nor hunger are seasonal.

Want to help alleviate hunger for members of this community. This becomes a reality when people people donate and stand beside us. We appreciate all manner of donations and there is still plenty of time to contribute this year. Both housing and food are necessities for all people, and we must work together to continue fighting to end homelessness and hunger.

-thanks to National Alliance to end Homelessness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Power of Java

I was watching NBC's "The Voice" a few nights ago while kicking around a few ideas for the blog. First... Don't judge me. Inspiration comes from the the craziest places and who cares if I pretend that Pharrell, Blake, and I are best friends. Anyway, back to my original point: inspiration.

After a while, I was ready to give up on this venture switch to ESPN (not for inspiration, though. I just needed a few basketball scores) as Carson Daly made an announcement catching my attention. A global coffee chain was hosting a contest and the prize was one free food or drink item every day for the next 30 years. Interesting. I did some research, found the menu for this business, and then extrapolated a few numbers. To give a larger sample size, I've listed the least and most expensive items. Oh, did I mention there would be 10 lucky winners?

A child's chocolate milk at $1 a day, every day for 30 years = $10,950.
If all ten winners ordered nothing but this item, the total would equal $109,500.

Several drinks were listed at $4.25. One of these, every day for 30 years = $46,537.50.
If the ten winners ordered only these items, the total would be $465,375.

As someone who has worked with nonprofits for a significant portion of my adult life, my first thought was either of those sums would make an incredible difference to any social service provider. Instead of fueling the coffee habits for a group of over-caffeinated hipsters, this money should be given to nobler causes impacting the lives of people in need. But then, after doing more research, I discovered this corporation annually gives millions of dollars to organizations across America. They are doing their part and have earned the right to spend their profits however they see fit.

My focus turned inward. Maybe I should stop waiting for large national corporations to save the day, and perhaps I could do more, myself.

Its easy to channel ire and righteous indignation at large companies because they are impersonal entities. But what if I examine my own (in)actions with that same searing introspection? Are there things in my own life I could do without in order to help others? I'm not talking about plunging head first into a life of total self-deprivation. I don't need to forsake all manner of material comforts. But maybe there are a few things I could scale back on while putting that cash towards other causes.

A few dollars here, and a couple cents there... If stashed away and saved over the duration of a month or year... Would certainly be a blessing to organizations who are constantly scrambling to raise money. Perhaps this is something you might consider and pledge toward Samaritan House. And while I can't promise you will ever win a contest that awards you several thousand coffees over the course of the next 3 decades, I promise you can save lives by skipping an occasional cup of joe every now and then.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rural Homelessness

Many people think of homelessness as an urban phenomenon because homeless people are greater in number and more visible in larger cities. If you've spent time in a major American city, it makes sense that the public perception of homelessness has an urban face.

We are in Montana, where the largest city has a little over 100,000 and Kalispell weighs in with around 20,000. We are not exactly known as an urban Mecca. The town of Ismay, in Custer County, had only 19 people at the 2010 census. And even though we lack large cities and massive metropolitan centers, homelessness is just as pervasive in rural areas not only here in Big Sky county, but in smaller communities around the country.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Geography of Homelessness report, there are approximately 14 homeless people on average for every 10,000 people in rural areas, compared with 29 homeless people out of every 10,000 in urban areas.

The same factors that contribute to urban homelessness also lead to rural homelessness. These are a lack of affordable housing and inadequate income, which can be difficult issues no matter where a person lives. Scarcity of affordable places to live combined with wages lower than what are needed to survive are not exclusive to larger cities and can lead to rural homelessness. But there are added problems facing people in small cities and towns that city-dwellers are not faced with.

Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of rural homelessness is access to services. Unlike in urban areas, many rural homeless assistance systems lack the infrastructure to provide quick, comprehensive care to those experiencing homelessness. Reasons for this difference abound, including lack of available affordable housing, limited transportation methods, and the tendency for federal programs to focus on urban areas. Per population, rural areas also tend to have higher rates of poverty, only compounding the risk of becoming and staying homeless in those areas.

In other words, the isolated nature of many Montana communities make it difficult to recover from homelessness. We are doing our best at Samaritan House to use the resources at our disposal in Flathead County, which is one of the larger populated areas in the state. Some of our residents come from smaller towns in the Northwest and moving to our area was a step in their process for escaping homelessness. With your help and donations, we can assist these individuals and families who are doing their best to improve their situation.

Statistics and information courtesy of National Alliance to End Homelessness and

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Turkeys and Firetrucks

A few days before Thanksgiving, I took a team of middle schoolers to a volunteer fire department to help the local Auxiliary committee assemble baskets of donated food. The goal was to spend a few hours sorting the food into boxes that would be delivered to families to use for Thanksgiving dinner. Please be advised that taking a group of 11-14 year olds ANYWHERE is not for the faint of heart and should be done only with extreme caution.

After I finagled all the phones and personal tablets, the next step was to split the kids into groups based not upon maximum work output as much as they were designed to keep them from physically injuring themselves or others. But, I can't complain too much because every one of these students had volunteered and happily agreed to help out on one of their days off. Apparently, they found something more worthwhile than Call of Duty or Minecraft.

First, we unloaded the food from fire trucks before unpacking everything onto several tables. Everyone was boisterous and youthful energy chimed through the firehall. Yeah, basically it was really loud. The kids were laughing and joking and genuinely enthused to be helping people they would never meet. It was very refreshing to watch them work because they hadn't figured out that helping others must be a sobering and somber experience. These kids actually had the audacity to enjoy themselves while they crammed boxes and containers into baskets.

Eventually, we finished and and the parents began arriving to collect their kids. While waiting, I had an opportunity to talk to the students and get some feedback. Most of the kids found an old soccer ball and an impromptu game broke out in the parking lot. But while the hilarity and good times ensued, I spoke with one young lady who opted out of soccer in favor of spending some long-lost quality time with her phone. She intermittently shared her experience and typed a million miles an hour as I asked her why she wanted to help.

After a few seconds, she lowered her hands (even the one with the phone seemingly welded to it) and looked up at me. In the most "matter of fact" way, she answered me in a tone that told me I must have asked the dumbest question imaginable. With a tenderness and sympathy reserved for most senile people, she summed up her motive in a simple sentence:

"I wanted to do this because it was the right thing to do."

From the mouth of babes.