Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Fool-Proof Resolution (Seriously)

Ah, the new year is freshly upon us! A time to reflect upon the past 365 days and then pledge our allegiance and dedication to what is important and how we we will resolve to accomplish these amazing feats and challenges. How will we better our lives in the upcoming year? Here are a few suggestions...

Loose weight? This is a popular goal and usually lasts until the spring when the other, non-human bears come out of hibernation. Then we slowly and methodically make our way from shopping at the healthy, organic grocery store to parking in the furthest recesses of the Golden Corral parking lot so no one recognizes our car.

Exercise? This is so excellent in theory... Waking up at 5:30 am. Lifting heavy things. Stretching in uncomfortable places. Sweating. Pass.

Being kinder? Of all the goals we set forth for ourselves, this seems the most attainable and the most benevolent. Well, until we have to forage our way through the various return lines and checkout counters and parking lots sprinkled throughout Kalispell. Perhaps it is a good thing no one can hear us at traffic lights.

So there you have it; sometimes even our best intentioned plans can start strongly only to fade as time progresses. In order to help you set realistic goals for the new year that will make this city a better place, please allow me to offer two resolutions that will help several people at once: Time or money.

In terms of how to help the homeless, there is really no wrong way to assist. Any help is beneficial for the community in general. If you are wondering on whether your money or your time would be a better donation; either contribution is vital as both are crucial to the daily operations of Samaritan House.

Time is a precious commodity and for many people there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish their own tasks, let alone tend to the needs of others. Volunteering time is not an option for some people. Giving money will provide clothing, education, food, and shelter. It will help the homeless in more ways than you may realize and the more money that is given, the more services and help can be provided.

But giving money is far from the only way to help. You can also give your time to the homeless. We depend heavily upon volunteers, especially in regards to our meal services. We understand not everyone is able to donate finances because times are increasingly tough for many of us and our money is hard-earned and well-deserved. Donating time is just as valuable as giving money. You can spend your time volunteering to serve or prepare meals, or working on numerous projects that will benefit the homeless. Samaritan House never has a shortage of projects needing to be finished... Everything from sorting food and clothes, to deep cleaning.

While many look past the homeless, caught up in their own busy world, you have the opportunity to do something. If you have a desire to help, then give to the homeless, be it money or your time. Your contribution helps provide hope to some of those who need it most. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog and if you have any questions about how you can help, please don't hesitate to call our office at 257-5801.

And, have a happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The (Homeless) Brady Bunch

In an attempt to make us reexamine how a family can end up either homeless or at least a step or two away from becoming homeless, here is a classic tale retold. What if one of our favorite television families were transported from the 1960s to today? And what if they endured a few bumps in the road along the way. Here is a modern rendition of the Brady Bunch.

The first thing we need to do is update the cost of living for the Bradys. Their living situation needs to be adjusted to the current market in California, where they lived. A mere apartment in Los Angeles can demand the renter makes nearly $60,000 a year just to cover the basic cost of rent, insurance, and utilities. Have you seen the size of the house they lived in? The price would be astronomical.

Another variable to consider is the size of the Bunch. The Brady family consisted of 2 parents, 6 kids, a housekeeper, and a dog. I suppose we could also throw in cousin Oliver even though he was the most contrived and annoying story line ever. There is no feasible way that a family of 10 could live in that San Bernardino neighborhood on Mike's single salary as an architect. It makes fine television, but it is simply not realistic.

Say goodbye to Alice, the housekeeper. Her salary would be absolutely unattainable on a single-income budget when combined with the rest of the family expenses. Hopefully, Sam the butcher would be willing to either make an honest woman out of her or at least give her a job at his shop. If not, a life on the streets becomes a very real possibility for our favorite quirky maid.

The next change would most likely be Carol getting a job to help out. To support their lifestyle, the Brady family would have to have a dual income with each wage-earner pulling in a nice amount. But the problem is Carol's options are limited because she has only a high school diploma and no real working experience, so all she can find is something that pays minimum wage. Being a trophy wife on TV is fine... not so much in the real world. Another conundrum is that she is forced to be away from home while she's working, so what about the children? They cannot be left unattended or every lamp in the house will be broken due to errant footballs being tossed to and fro.

This is where the revisionist narrative really takes a U-turn. Because the mom is gone for long stretches while working, the oldest children, Marcia and Greg, take over childcare duties. Affording child care is out of the question, so this means Greg never gets to form his rock and roll alter ego, Johnny Bravo, and Marcia never has a chance to meet Davy Jones and secure that perfect kiss. Lives are changed forever on several fronts.

Unfortunately, family trauma and stress can lead to the worst possible scenarios. Mike, the father, begins to feel the weight of the situation and starts to drink and become abusive. Money is stretched thin and nerves begin to fray. Carol gives him an ultimatum to either clean himself up or move out, groovy polyester suits and all... so he bolts.

Ugh. Now Carol is a single mom trying to raise an entire family on a minimum wage job while maintaining her current standard of living. Not happening. With Mike, the primary wage earner, gone, the Bunch now has no choice but to move out of their swanky neighborhood and into a smaller two-bedroom apartment in Reseda. Carol decides she needs to go to community college but that further complicates the issue because her work schedule demands she must take classes at night.

Marcia and Greg now must enter the workforce and they both get jobs slinging burgers while the next oldest kids, Jan and Peter assume watching the youngest three siblings (Remember, cousin Oliver is with them). Life has grown more somber because they had to get rid of Tiger, their beloved dog because the apartment complex does not allow pets. This takes an emotional toll on everyone.

Life has changed. Cindy and Bobby, the youngest Bradys, decide they have become too great a burden on the family and they run away, never to be heard from again. Cousin Oliver begins hanging around the wrong crowd and gets sent to jail for grand larceny and aggravated assault. This is definitely not the show Sherwood Shwartz had envisioned. The Brady Bunch has fallen apart and now resembles a more modern story that is closer to reality for many families.

I understand I have created several characterizations and engaged in some sweeping stereotypes. But I hope you can see the greater picture of what I'm trying to convey, which is life is not a romantic or family-based comedy. Not all of our problems are solved in nice and tidy 30 minute increments. There are real families who go through things like this every day and they don't have the luxury of turning the TV off and restarting the next day.

As we approach this new year, let us remember there are others who are constantly living paycheck to paycheck, just one catastrophe away from becoming homeless. least do it for Alice!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays!

I like the peace an solitude this time of year affords.

Many of you are experiencing a few days off from work as the year winds down and the holidays arrive. Others are still working around the clock, doing what it takes to provide for your loved ones. No matter what your job entails, please take some time to remember that the world is a better place when you realize you are not the only one living in it.

Samaritan House would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, our readers and supporters, for your partnership over the past year. We appreciate everything you have done for us and we look forward to partnering with you again in the new year. It is difficult to predict, with certainty, how the coming year will unfold. We have some definite goals we want to accomplish and are honored to have your support. If we truly want to rid the Flathead Valley of homelessness, then it is going to take effort and community collaboration. But for today, tomorrow, and the remainder of the holiday season... We are going to take a breath and reflect on what it takes to accomplish that.

Have an incredible holiday season as you reflect on what has happened in your life. Enjoy and cherish the loved ones who matter to you. Remember that you play a role, daily, if affecting the lives of those around you. This world would not be the same without your contributions of love, empathy, and kindness. You make this planet better for being on it!

So... Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Kwanzaa. No matter what your traditions or beliefs are, please have a wonderful time of joy, peace, and reflection as we approach the new year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The World According to Yoda

"Fear leads to anger, Anger leads to hate, Hate leads to Suffering." -Yoda

The whole universe is transfixed by the latest incarnation of the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens. Don't worry, this is not a blog about the movie or anything related to a galaxy far, far away. Having grown up with the original three movies (which are actually now the middle three movies), I always loved the above-mentioned line mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back and I think its brilliant and witty and it espouses an excellent sentiment that applies to life no matter what planet a person is from.

When a person fears someone or something and the fear starts to take over, the person may become angry with and then do something drastic. Fear and anger are similar emotions. They often intertwine around each other but the fear usually leads to anger and the anger leads to action in order to eliminate the possibility of the fear becoming reality. We often fear what we don't know or understand because its easier to judge the unknown than to embrace it; we have a real problem with feeling uncomfortable.

Anger then leads to hate because if you become angry and can't stop feeling that emotion, you start to hate other things around you. It is rarely a sudden emotion that flashes and alerts everyone around you as to what is happening. Hate is methodical. It festers and boils and then comes out of hiding once a person has reached their limits.
Hate turns to suffering very quickly. Hating one someone could turn into a physical or emotional manifestation that causes you to act out. This will cause you to suffer as other people will not want to be around you.

Suffering destroys humanity because it lacks love and compassion and people walking around without compassion and empathy leads to us not realizing that other people are hurting, hence the suffering. Suffering is the logical conclusion of fear if we let fear get the best of us.

Fear and anger are similar emotions. They often intertwine each other but the fear usually leads to anger because the anger leads to action in order to eliminate the possibility of the fear becoming reality. Once anger sets in, it leads to suffering either due to revenge against an act caused by anger or it leads to suffering because negative emotions are by themselves cause suffering inside those who have it.

People often do not realize that when one suffers due to anger, it is poison for the spirit. It eliminates happiness, hope, and love. Without which, no kindness can grow or exist. But there are other emotions which have this pattern: envy, confusion, loss of control, and the like. We must strive to make it evident to ourselves exactly when we experience these things or we shall surely become victims of those things which can destroy us at the hands of another or worse, by our own hands.

So, please forgive the extreme nerdish advice. I hope it makes sense and I think it more than applies as we make our way through the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Heart and Mind

Although I am writing this blog in December, my message is not about the holidays. There is no “Ho, Ho, Ho” to be found in this article. You will find neither reindeer or mistletoe. Instead there is one simple message I think worth sharing: happiness through giving. Genuine giving can bring you incredible joy while assisting others on their paths to happiness. The greatest, most wonderful and sublime state is not Montana; it is the state of unconditional charity towards others. This the type of sentiment that is based on our ability to empathize with others while actively doing things to improve the situation of those around us.

It is more than merely sending a card.

We are all members of one humanity and in that sense must honor and give to others in order to benefit all of society. For things to work best, the power of love and giving must be heart-based, not negotiated only through the mind. The heart is the source and repository of love and joy. The mind by itself is not capable of feeling emotions and is used to process those emotions. You can teach your heart to resonate with love and joy. Too many people love according to their 'heads' and not their 'hearts.

But this takes effort. I wish it were as easy as typing these words, but as humans we are not capable of avoiding negative feelings. Circumstances of life catch us up into states of negative vibration. If we remain in these states we cannot experience love or joy, and our mind will continue to torment us with negative thoughts and resentments. It's all about refocusing our energy and efforts into positive channels. For example, anger at the politicians who allow homelessness and starvation can be transmuted into the joy of giving food to the needy.

The final thing I want to mention is to remember the origin of our humanity in the natural world. There is a rhythm of life and compassion for living things within the natural world. We can feel pure joy as we interact with nature other human beings. So let’s remember to turn off our electronics and other distractions which pull us away from our original nature of empathy and compassion. Not permanently, mind you, but just long enough to breathe and notice those around us.

As we aspire to live our lives within these principles we will find ourselves experiencing the pure joy of giving to ourselves and others. Let’s aspire to this on a daily basis, not just during the Christmas season. Giving does not have to be a present, nor money, although these are appreciated when appropriate. Giving can be time and energy and loving kindness, not just volunteering your time in a shelter.

Giving can be loving thoughts, prayers and meditations. With all the heart ache and chaos in this world, giving can be prayers for peace and ending wars. Giving can be signing petitions. Giving can be joining with others to improve the life conditions of other people or animals in this world. January will arrive after Christmas with the opportunity for New Years Resolutions. We don’t have to wait for January; we can start today, living in our hearts and in a state of unconditional love and joy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

One of a Kind(ness)

I will be the first to admit that I often have to "try" to get into the holiday spirit. It is so much easier to simply ignore all the chaos and hubbub that surrounds us this time of year. Inflatable reindeer and elves camped on our neighbor's lawn; multicolored lights dangling from every imaginable precipice... It never ends! So, the question becomes: how can I remain sane and even show a little kindness?

I mean, everyone benefits from showing kindness to others. Research has consistently shown that humans feel happier when they are performing acts of kindness. By finding ways to be good to others, you are creating opportunities for self-growth through this mutually beneficial exchange. Being kind to others does not mean that you have to sacrifice time or give away all your money. It is all about incorporating small and caring gestures into your everyday life. I think this is something the entire Flathead Valley can do.

It is a human instinct to be kind and compassionate toward others. This explains why you automatically jump out of your chair to help when someone falls or pull over to assist when you witness a car crash. Well...I guess one our of two isn't bad? The problem is that society has become increasingly individualistic, and people are constantly repressing that instinct to do good. We are almost afraid to help each other. Notice yourself resisting that urge and don't let it keep you from doing things such as stopping to help a person pick up the books she dropped, changing a flat tire for an elderly person or picking up the tab for a person who forgot his wallet.

But kindness doesn't have to be solely reactionary, it can be intentional and proactive!Challenge yourself to do something good for someone a certain number of times each week. You can bake cookies for your elderly neighbor, visit children at a local hospital, pay for a random person's drink at a coffee shop or send notes of appreciation to people you have worked with in the past. The beauty of these random acts is that you will spread happiness to others, and they are likely to "pay it forward." A study published in the March 2010 issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" found that cooperative behavior is contagious. Your small gestures are likely to create a chain reaction of kindness or an epidemic of compassion and empathy,

It is very important to also show love and kindness to those who are closest to you. If a friend is going through a loss or difficult time, you can show your support by cooking meals for her or helping her do household chores. You probably already do many things to support your loved ones, but showing them kindness randomly or without them asking you adds extra value to your gesture. Offer to baby-sit for a family member's kids so she can have a date with her spouse, treat a friend to a game or movie or host a "just because I love you" brunch for all your loved ones.

Anyway, it doesn't matter how you show kindness... Only that you DO show kindness.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Alone for the Holidays

Everyone experiences the holidays differently.

Throughout the many years we have been providing shelter for the homeless, we've housed thousands of people during this this time of year. Each scenario is as different and unique as the person staying with us. Often, we focus on families during the holidays because there might be children involved and it is sad to face the difficult truth that some kids spend this time of year in a homeless shelter. No one likes to imagine the holidays from a homeless child's perspective. But we also realize there is a particular kind of heaviness connected to those who are single and homeless.

And being alone for the holidays is not limited to those who are homeless. Just because a person has a place to live doesn't mean they are exempt from feelings and isolation that can result from being alone during the holidays. So here are some tips for how to cope with being by yourself during this time of year.

If you’re alone because someone close to you has died, or because your marriage or relationship has ended, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. There are others going trough the same thing you are experiencing and you don't have to feel like a pariah.

Sometimes spending time alone allows a person to recharge their batteries. There can be peace and solace when a lot of people are not always around. their Ask yourself – are you actually okay with being alone during the holidays, but feel that you should be spending it with other people? We’re all bombarded with images of happy families spending time together during the holidays. Remember that as wonderful as it can be to be with family, it’s also very stressful.

Don’t tell yourself that it’s not worth decorating or cooking when it’s just you. What’s wrong with decorating your place or cooking a special meal just for yourself? Chances are that doing the holiday activities that you’re used to doing with family or friends will give you a lift.

Don’t hide the fact that you’re spending the holidays alone from acquaintances or colleagues. If you’re frank about it, there’s a good chance that someone will invite you over for Christmas dinner.

Don’t drink. Alone and drunk is not a good combination. Chances are that you’ll become even more depressed.

Line up a special treat for yourself, like evening strolls to enjoy the lights, a concert or something else that will get you out of the house and make the holidays memorable.
Do some of the things that you did as a child, like watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or making Christmas cookies.

And last, you don’t have to be alone at the holidays. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship.

Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Volunteer your time to serve or deliver holidays meals for people in need. Ask your local hospital if the children’s ward needs volunteers.

At Samaritan House, we want everyone to enjoy this time time of year and we acknowledge it can be just as difficult for homeless singles as it is for homeless families.

Monday, December 7, 2015

For Your Reading Enjoyment

Have you ever heard the same phrase so often that it loses all connection to reality? Something uttered so many times that you tune it out and give it no serious thought, whatsoever? This happened to me a few days ago and it almost went unnoticed until I actually stopped and gave pause regarding what was said to me: "Enjoy the rest of your day."

The circumstances were unremarkable and mundane. My wife and I were exiting a movie and the theater attendant cheerily spouted this harmless-but-overused catchall phrase; six little words we utter to each other with about as much involuntary regularity as breathing. And we rarely pay attention as we meander about our lives. But what if we took this salutary snippet seriously and really did try to enjoy our day? Would we behave differently than if we merely went about our day with no emphasis on enjoyment? I mean, how does one enjoy a day, anyways?

I wasn't sure this endeavor was even possible, so I decided to take note of my surroundings for the rest of the day. I wanted to see of this if this pseudo-hippie attitude was even possible.

Driving away from the shopping complex, I shot a subtle glance sideways at my wife as she scrolled and tapped her phone. She held a device that could literally answer any question she desired, stream any movie or song she fancied, or connect her with any person on the planted she might want to converse with. But I don't know if she was enjoying it.

The guy next to me in the huge SUV at the stoplight looked agitated. His automobile was doing all the heavy lifting. I'm sure he hadn't walked from Calgary to Kalispell. I bet he never considered manually transporting all the packages he had in his trunk. Maybe he couldn't find a decent XM Radio station to listen to.

The couple across the aisle at the restaurant were complaining about the rareness of the gentleman's steak.

At the grocery store, there was a lady robotically chatting on her Bluetooth (I know... they still exist) but she didn't seem overly enjoyed regarding the 6,000 items in her cart.

Later that evening, I sat stone-faced on the couch when the football team I was rooting for gave up a game winning touchdown to the other team with 42 seconds left. There was no enjoyment to be found in my living room, for sure.

My kids argued and fought more than they played while on their XBox. This was not enjoyable for anyone within earshot.

So, as I finally crawled into bed and let my head sink into my overly soft pillow (again, sans any really enjoyment), I thought back to kid at the theater and his impossible request. How dare he have the audacity to taunt me with such a cruel and unattainable mantra!

Enjoy our days... How can we possibly do that with so many things lined up against at every single turn?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mark Twain (continued)

Here are some final thoughts from Mark Twain. I've officially held out as long as I can in regard to holiday posts...but next week I shall delve into the festive, Yuletide spirit!

5. Release yourself from entitlement.

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

When you are young your mom and dad may give you a lot of things. As you grow older you may have a sort of entitlement. You may feel like the world should just give you what you want or that it owes you something. This belief can cause a lot of anger and frustration in your life. Because the world may not give you what expect it to. On the other hand, this can be liberating too. You realize that it is up to you to shape your own life and for you to work towards what you want. You are not a kid anymore, waiting for your parents or the world to give you something. You are in the driver’s seat now. And you can go pretty much wherever you want.

6. If you’re taking a different path, prepare for reactions.

“A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

I think this has quite a bit of relevance to self-improvement. If you start to change or do something differently than you usually do then people may react in different ways. Some may be happy for you. Some may be indifferent. Some may be puzzled or react in negative and discouraging ways. Much of these reactions are probably not so much about you but about the person who said it and their life. How they feel about themselves is coming through in the words they use and judgements they make.

And that’s OK. I think it’s pretty likely that they won’t react as negatively as you may imagine. Or they will probably at least go back to focusing on their own challenges pretty soon. So what other people may say and think and letting that hold you back is probably just fantasy and barrier you build in your mind. You may find that when you finally cross that inner threshold you created then people around you may not shun you or go chasing after you with pitchforks. They might just go: “OK”.

7. Keep your focus steadily on what you want.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”

What you focus your mind on greatly determines how things play out. You can focus on your problems and dwell in suffering and a victim mentality. Or you can focus on the positive in situation, what you can learn from that situation or just focus your mind on something entirely else. It may be “normal” to dwell on problems and swim around in a sea of negativity. But that is a choice. And a thought habit. You may reflexively start to dwell on problems instead of refocusing your mind on something more useful. But you can also start to build a habit of learning to gain more and more control of where you put your focus.

8. Don’t focus so much on making yourself feel good.

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”

This may be a bit of a counter-intuitive tip. But, one of the best ways to feel good about yourself is to make someone else feel good or to help them in some way. This is a great way to look at things to create an upward spiral of positivity and exchange of value between people. You help someone and both of you feel good. The person you helped feels inclined to give you a hand later on since people tend to want to reciprocate. And so the both of you are feeling good and helping each other.

Those positive feelings are contagious to other people and so you may end up making them feel good too. And the help you received from your friend may inspire you to go and help another friend. And so the upward spiral grows and continues.

9. Do what you want to do.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Awesome quote. And I really don’t have much to add to that one. Well, maybe to write it down and keep it as a daily reminder – on your fridge or bathroom door – of what you can actually do with your life.

10. I am leaving this internally blank so you can add your own mantra. Do it! Feel free to comment so others can see your idea and learn from it.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Gospel According to St. Mark (Twain)

We all have different interests certain things that separate us from every other person on this planet. For instance, I am a nerd. I'm cool with this and have accepted it long ago. I enjoy reading certain authors and one of my favorites is Mark Twain, whom you might know for some of his very popular books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He was also a humorist, satirist and lecturer and all around brilliant man.

The week after Thanksgiving is always an interesting time to attempt blog articles. Everyone is pensive and reflective and often too somber. So I thought I would take this week and share some of my favorite Twain witticisms in an attempt to inform, enlighten, and entertain as we wind down the calendar year. Here is a list of things to live by.

1. Approve of yourself.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

If you don’t approve of yourself, of your behavior and actions then you’ll probably walk around most of the day with a sort of uncomfortable feeling. If you, on the other hand, approve of yourself then you tend to become relaxed and gain inner freedom to do more of what you really want. So you need give yourself approval and allow yourself to be who you want to be. Not look for the approval from others. But from yourself. To dissolve that inner barrier or let go of that self-sabotaging tendency. This is no easy task and it can take time.

2. Your limitations may just be in your mind.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

So many limitations are mostly in our minds. We may for instance think that people will disapprove because we are too tall, too old or balding. But these things mostly matter when you think they matter. Because you become self-conscious and worried about what people may think. If you, on the other hand, don’t mind then people tend to not mind that much either. And if you don’t mind then you won’t let that part of yourself become a self-imposed roadblock in your life. It is, for instance, seldom too late to do what you want to do.

3. Lighten up and have some fun.

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

Humor and laughter are amazing tools. They can turn any serious situation into something to laugh about. They can lighten the mood just about anywhere. And a lighter mood is often a better space to work in because now your body and mind isn’t filled to the brim with negative emotions. When you are more light-hearted and relaxed then the solution to a situation is often easier to both come up with and implement.

4. Let go of anger.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Anger is most of the time pretty pointless. It can cause situations to get out of hand. And from a selfish perspective it often more hurtful for the one being angry then the person they are angry at. So even if you feel angry at someone for days recognize that you are mostly just hurting yourself. The other person may not even be aware that you are angry at him or her. So either talking to the person and resolving the conflict or letting go of anger as quickly as possible are pretty good tips to make your life more pleasurable.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Remember to be Thankful!

We all have those days.Days when you do not feel much motivated at all. When your best laid plans go out the window before the day has barely begun. When something important unexpectedly goes wrong and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. Or when you feel sorry for yourself and honestly just want to go back to bed and to sleep again.

Maybe the simplest and certainly one of the most effective ways to turn such a day, week or month around into something more positive and better is in my experience to turn your focus to gratitude. Because even if things look tough today or for the next 3 or 6 months I can always find something or several things to feel very grateful for about my life.

So I’d like to share a small list of 10 simple, fundamental things that I feel grateful for. I usually only reflect on one or a few of these things when I need to but I thought a list like this one could be helpful both for you and for me. Maybe not every item on this list works in your life, then take what works from here and create and add to put together your own list.

1. A roof over my head and a warm home.
We live in Montana, a place where the winters are cold and snowy and the fall and spring can be quite rainy. So I often return to this one. Few things feel better than to reflect upon having warm home and a roof over my head when it is cold and windy outside and I can hear the rain beating hard on my window.

2. Plenty of drinkable water.
I love water and drink plenty of it every day. It is certainly something I take for granted from time to time. But it is not a given.780 million people lack access to safe drinking water according to Try to go the rest of the day boiling any water you need to use.

3. I don’t have to go hungry.
Plus, most of things I cook and/or eat are quite tasty and healthy. And sometimes they are simply wonderful. So I have much to be grateful for when it comes to food.

4. I can enjoy the small and free pleasures of life.
A sunrise.
A relaxing walk in the woods.
A cool swim in the lake.
A crisp Autumn day in Glacier.
The sun warming my face after a dreary, gray winter.

5. Access to the internet.
When I was really young back in the 80’s and 90’s and you wanted to learn about something then you had to ask someone who may have had spotty knowledge. Or you had to visit the local library and maybe there was a book or magazine about it.
6. My friends and family.
For the love, support, kindness and all the fun that they offer and I get to offer them.

7. My health.
I do not have the indestructible body of Superman. But if I treat it well and get plenty of sleep, work out and eat healthy then it works really wonderfully well almost all the time.

8. The kindness of people I have never met before.
I truly appreciate the simple kindness in the rest of my daily life too when people let me skip ahead of them in the checkout line in the store when I only have a few items. When they stay for a few seconds and hold up the door for me too. Or let me into their lane when I drive.

9. The setbacks that have formed me and made me stronger.
The ability to learn from mistakes and not have to wallow in their consequences forever.
This has made me more appreciative than ever of the opportunity I have with what I do here.

10. I am alive.
I have, like everyone else, been in situations where an accident and being in the wrong place for just a few seconds could have meant I would not have been here anymore. I did not choose this life but I am here now. I have this moment and day and hopefully many days still to experience and live my life. It is an amazing thing.

So much to be thankful for... Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Stress, Be Gone!

Ah... here we are, again. A time of year when we like to reflect on what we need to be grateful for. There are many reasons we should be thankful, but what if the ramifications for being appreciative ebbed and flowed into other areas of our life? What if a state of thanksgiving helped reduce stress and the chaotic environments that try to strangle the life right out of us? If there was a solution to stress so simple that it involved nothing more than feeling thankful for the good things in your life? In fact, there is. That solution is called gratitude.

Studies have shown that people who regularly practice feeling thankful have a leg up when it comes to their health. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California at Davis, has been a leading researcher in this growing field, termed “positive psychology.” His research has found that those who adopt an “attitude of gratitude” as a permanent state of mind experience many health benefits.

Professor Emmons lists some practical behaviors that might ease the tension and stress of life, especially over the holiday season. Here are a couple that are easy to do.

Be Mindful of What You Have
You may assume that those with more material possessions have more to be grateful for. However, research suggests otherwise. Edward Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, found that a high percentage of affluent people in Japan report low levels of life satisfaction, just as those living in poverty in India do. These findings suggest that it’s not how much you have, but how you feel about what you have that makes the difference. It's not having what you want, but wanting what you have. Contentment is such an excellent state to live in!

Keep a Gratitude Journal
Recording what you feel grateful for in a journal is a great way to give thanks on a regular basis. Emmons found that those who listed five things they felt grateful for in a weekly gratitude journal reported fewer health problems and greater optimism than those who didn’t. A second study suggests that daily writing led to a greater increase in gratitude than weekly writing. When things are written down, it is easier to be more mindful of them. Think of this as a grocery list for your soul.

Reframe Situations as Positive
It’s not actually a challenging situation that is upsetting. It’s how you perceive the situation. The next time you find yourself complaining about life’s hassles, see if you can mentally “flip the switch” to frame things differently. For example, rather than getting down about missing an opportunity, try to see the positive side. You might now have more time to direct towards other priorities.

So there you have it... Some practical ways to relieve stress while being grateful at the same time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bah, Humbug

Disclaimer: my jaded views on the holiday season is a result of growing up in an overbearing Italian-American household with a mother who started decorating for Thanksgiving in July and the Christmas tree went up in October. Our outside holiday lights never came down and I was generally embarrassed most of the year. I realize I am grumpy and my attitude toward the holidays is neither indicative nor representative of the rest of my family. I am the Grinch.

I've had to work hard over the years to re-embrace a spirit of Yuletide. I appreciate this time of year and all the trimmings that go along with Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and whatever other traditions are (or are not) celebrated. I get it; just don't ask me to dance around, unwrap, or light anything. I'm content letting the rest of the world celebrate however it sees fit.

And in spite of the miserly, Scroogian attitude I've adopted as a result of being forced to actually live out the Christmas tree scene from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, I still want to believe in the goodness of others. Even though I was literally strapped to a chair and had to watch A Christmas Story over and over and over... I refuse to totally go over to the dark side.

When I was a kid, I used to write these epic wishlists; a comprehensive manifesto of the items I wanted... no, check that... The items I NEEDED. A list of the things I could not live without. This list became shorter as I grew older. I figured out that it was more beneficial to ask for fewer things because my odds improved in getting them. The key was to focus on a couple things instead of begging for the entire toy catalogue.

So, in an attempt to rehash my youth and perhaps garner a new (not as grumpy) view of the holidays, I've written another wishlist. This one forsakes any clamoring for techy things or anything with an "i" in front of it. I'm not asking for clothes or cars or houses. Instead, I'm addressing my wishlist to Washington.

Wish 1. Get Congress to issue a joint apology to the millions of homeless families and youth, coupled by their commitment to revamp our nation's paltry approach to this population, and the serious funding necessary. Oh yeah, pass (fully funded) the Homeless Children and Youth Act for a show of good faith. The Homeless Children and Youth Act is bi-partisan legislation that would make it easier for homeless children, youth, and families to receive homeless assistance, no matter where they happen to be staying.

Wish 2. Get Congress to agree that poverty in America is immoral and that they will immediately and wholeheartedly take drastic steps to restore a decent quality of life to the disenfranchised.

Wish 3. Get Congress to institute a moratorium on any cruel initiatives to punish those at the bottom of the economic ladder--in areas not limited to health care, criminal justice, welfare, childcare, education and nutrition.

So... There you have it. Now I'll just leave out some milk and cookies.

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Open Letter to the Next President

Amanda has it tough and she knows it.

She doesn't live in a fantasy world where she's allowed to deflect the issues facing her. She doesn't rely on polls and caucuses to inform her about what she needs to do and whom she needs to verbally attack to prove her own points. She doesn't have the luxury to tweet pithy sayings about how 'tremendous' her ideas are. Instead, Amanda is attempting to survive in a country where poverty is too often just a talking point every 4 years.

Her 3 little boys struggle with a long list of issues—ADHD, seizures, bipolar, and more. Her single-parent status changed last year when she married "Jake,” by all accounts a good husband and father. But he’s out of work. So is she, and the practical considerations of getting a job are as remote as walking from Kalispell to the Antarctic.

They’ve been homeless for almost a year and are, according to the US Department of Education, still homeless. Five people living in 2 small rooms isn’t anything but homelessness. They’re swirling in the desperate storm of medical issues, mental health crises, and abject cramped poverty. And they have a lot to lose if things get worse.

Stress begets stress. The family’s dire day-to-day reality has caused their resolve to crumble. The boys acted out in school, and are now “home” schooled. If you can imagine home-schooling 3 little guys filled with anxiety squeezed into a closet-sized space…not an ideal learning environment.

They have no choice but to fall behind on rent, utilities, and other bills because they have to take their youngest to multitudes of doctors. Amanda fears no one will hire either of them because they are continually taking off work to take Joey to the doctor. And she’s right. They’ve made the right choice, but still pay the price.

These stalwart parents are trying their best to hang on as the slope gets unimaginably steeper. I wouldn’t be able to handle their life for 5 minutes. Nor would Hillary, Bernie, or I suspect Ted and Marco. Their situation would render any politician speechless... at a loss of words.

So what would our next commander in chief propose? Sometimes it feels like we’ve discarded our moral responsibility for those who struggle; they’re not our problem. But they are. Letting families like this collapse—they love each other and are willing to fight to survive—will cost us all in the long run. Absent a mammoth miracle, they’re caught in an endless cycle.

In my dreams I see a presidential candidate debate solely on the issue of poverty. Amanda will ask the tough questions. And the candidates would be forced actually answer the questions without grandstanding or ignoring the parts they don't want to address. We can only hope the winners don’t make it even tougher on families like Amanda and Jake’s.

But I’m not holding my breath; there's plenty of hot air already being dispensed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thank You, Veterans

Samaritan House would like to thank and honor the Veterans who have served our country. We appreciate the sacrifices you have made. American veterans are heroes and we publicly acknowledge the impact you have on our society. You help make this country great.

As the holidays approach, one thing we like to do is assemble care packages for our residents, many of whom are veterans. If you are able and interested, would you please consider donating some of the following items:

Gift cards. These are practical ways for our residents to purchase things they need with dignity. While many of us do not give a second thought about walking into a store and buying something, most of our residents are not able to do this. Some suggestions are $25 cards for Ross, Target, TJ Maxx, and Wal Mart.

Personal items. When a person experiences homelessness, they often go without personal items that most of us use on a daily basis. For women, things like lotion, deodorant, makeup, and perfume can add a touch of humanity to life. Our men could use deodorant and cologne or body spray.

Another item that is very popular and useful is a journal. Many of our residents have amazing stories to tell and they find journaling a cathartic exercise to both process their situations and express themselves.

Holiday meals. With the holidays right around the corner, we would be very appreciative for any food donations. Here are some specific things we could use.
Side items: potatoes, green beans, casseroles, etc.

Again, thank you so much for all you do. If you would like to help out with anything mentioned, please call our office and speak with Sona, at 257-5801.

Monday, November 9, 2015

An Important Notice

Autumn means several things in the Flathead, and one of those important matters is our Samaritan House Fall Newsletter. This will go to the press and be sent out shortly, but here is some info that will also be helpful. I recently spoke with our office manager, Sona, and she was kind enough to fill me in on some of our needs. I will have more details in the newsletter, but I wanted to list these for now. thanks!

Items we can out to good use:
Backpacks- Many of our residents can use packs. This allows them to be mobile and carry personal items they need throughout the day.

Paper towels- We are constantly in need of paper towels because they serve such a utilitarian role. They are the cleaning version of duct tape... They do it all.

Simple Green- This is another important cleaning item that assists us in maintaining a hygienic and clean environment.

Volunteers fill a vital need in our organization, and allow us to serve our residents with a greater capacity. Currently, we have 2 main needs for volunteers.

Our primary need relates to meal service. We serve our residents meals every day of the week, and volunteers always play an important part of the process. Right now, it would be a huge blessing if we had someone willing to provide meals every Monday and Saturday evening, as well as every other Thursday.

Another way for volunteers to help would be in the area of deep cleaning or organizing. If cooking is simply not your forte, but you don't mind a little elbow grease, we would be very appreciate for anyone willing to help out.

Thanks so much for all your support. If you have any questions, please call our main office and speak with Sona, at 257-5801.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More Than a Letter

The other night a homeless man ( we will call him Albert) died on the streets. He was found under some newspapers on a park bench and had died during the night when the September temperatures had dropped to an unseasonable 36 degrees. Perhaps he died of exposure; perhaps malnutrition or any of a dozen other possible causes. Most surely he died alone, without family, without any means of contacting family if they do exist.

His shopping cart was next to the bench, and all of his worldly possessions, the sum total of his life, were in that cart….a couple blankets….a thin cotton sweater…..a roll of duct tape and his sign….”Homeless, need food or change…can you help me?”

I find myself needing to write a letter to Albert; nobody saw him while he lived; maybe this letter will help you all see him now.

Dear Albert:

I’m sorry! I still find it hard to believe that deaths like yours happen in the richest nation on Earth. I still find it hard to believe that a veteran who served his country could die in such a fashion. I still find it hard to believe that there are people among us who are neither seen nor heard. It would be inconceivable to me if I did not witness it with my eyes daily.

I’m sorry your country was not there for you the way you were there for your country. I’m sorry that the promises given to every citizen did not apply to you. I’m sorry that trade agreements and foreign aid were more important than your well-being. I'm sorry it is more important for politicians to argue about each others's appearance than it is for them to seek solutions for homelessness.

I’m sorry that by ignoring you we all share in the blame for your death. “There but for the grace of God…..” Well, here I am, healthy, happy, and loved, whether it be because of God or some random roll of the cosmic dice. I live, you die, and life goes on, right?

Maybe I’ve been a naïve fool, Albert, but I believed those words about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Albert, you fought in the army defending those words. So what went wrong? How does this happen?

Sadly, this narrative happens all too often around the country. In a few weeks Samaritan House will be sending out our fall newsletter. As the end of the year approaches, we humbly ask for your assistance in combating homelessness in the Flathead so people like Albert no longer become statistics.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Avoiding the Housing Turnstyle

In the world of homelessness assistance, housing is the number one priority. There are several facets to our job, but our overall goal is to help people reach a point in their lives where they can find housing and remain housed. Providing a temporary place for people to dwell is important and allows them the opportunities to set their lives in order and deal with the issues that are keeping them homeless.

Over the years, Samaritan House has helped countless people make the transition from the streets or other places never intended for habitation to permanent housing. Every time this happens we are humbled that we were able to play a part in helping change and transform someone's life for the better. Housing is the number one goal on our priority list.

But what happens after people exit homelessness to housing?

In an ideal world, homelessness should be rare, brief, and non-recurring. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. People who have been housed through homeless programs sometimes fall back into homelessness. Fortunately, researchers are working to determine why some households remain stably housed and others don’t.

A study released recently examined what happens to families and to individuals after exiting the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. Researchers examined outcomes for households who received rapid re-housing services and who received prevention services, and they followed up with households both one year and two years after exiting SSVF.

Overall, the results were positive. The vast majority of families and individuals served by SSVF’s rapid re-housing and prevention services remained housed, as you can see from the chart below.

Now that we have a sense of the percentage of households who will experience homelessness and the time frame for the highest risk of homelessness, let’s look at what other factors increase risk of homelessness. Researchers examined many variables, but a few factors had the strongest predictive potential for future homelessness:

Age. Among individual veterans, those aged 45-54 had the highest risk of homelessness. Amongst veterans in families, those aged 45-61 had the highest risk of homelessness.

Exit destination. Though the goal of SSVF is to exit all households to permanent housing, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Households who exited to any destination other than housing were more likely to become homeless in the future.

Security deposit assistance. Households (both individuals and families) who received assistance paying a security deposit were at a decreased risk of future homelessness.

The findings from this study are cause for optimism. The vast majority of households who received SSVF prevention or rapid re-housing services were successful in avoiding homelessness two years after they stopped receiving SSVF assistance.

Unfortunately, while not all households who reconnect to housing will remain stably housed, studies like this one are a critical tool in helping providers target services to those who are at an increased risk of future homelessness.

Thank you for partnering with us as we do what we can to make sure housing becomes a permanent situation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Overcoming Addiction

Smoking, alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, and other illicit drugs are sometimes thought of simply as vices, and vices are no one's business but your own. I want to argue that they are more than that to you. I want to suggest that this period of homelessness puts you in a position where you need to be the very best you can be as much of the time as possible. Addictions send us down a bleak road.

Leaving aside the legitimate and important concerns about health, tobacco addiction costs you money, lately as much as some illegal drug habits might cost. In some states a pack of cigarettes costs ten dollars. Most smokers smoke a pack a day. That is as much as $300 per month. That cost is the same as all your other expenses combined except food and gasoline. That is cell phone, gym membership, storage, mailbox, car insurance, and entertainment. You can have all that or cigarettes, or you can work twice as hard to support both.

Cigarette smoking is painful. It is painful every time it has been too long since your last cigarette. It is painful during cold season when you pick up any virus that is going around, and keep the illnesses long after a nonsmoker would have recovered. Believe me, there are enough sources of pain, with trying to keep warm, stay cool, avoid fights, and get enough money for food. This is a stark lifestyle. Small things can really make a difference in how happy you are. Cigarettes are not a small discomfort. They are a major discomfort.

You really should consider not drinking at all. There are few drugs that impair you the way alcohol does. Inhibitions are suspended. Judgment and motor skills are impaired. Aggressive tendencies are enhanced to violence. Depression can be caused or deepened by drinking. This is not a drug to play with while homeless. This is a drug that promises misery. Don't get drunk.

Prescription sedatives, narcotics, and tranquilizers
My main objections to the use of these drugs, even if obtained legally, are the risk of addiction and the dulling of responses. You may need all of your faculties at any moment in this lifestyle. If you've popped 10mg of valium, how capable are you of assessing the tactical needs of the moment? How easily can you put those tactics into practice? Use prescriptions for medical reasons only.

While some will argue it is safer than alcohol, marijuana still has its share of significant problems. If you are constantly getting stoned in public places, you are likely to have more contacts with police than the average citizen because of your homelessness. If you have pot, you have more to fear from the cops. An irritating rousting can become a significant legal problem.

Marijuana costs a lot of money, and you have to deal with criminals to get it. Pot dealers are often armed, and often deal other drugs as well, so while stoners may be non-violent you may be coming into contact with methamphetamine users. Meth users are frequently irrational, enter rages unpredictably, and can easily become violent. The potential for problems, violence or arrest, involved in scoring make marijuana use an unacceptable risk.

Other drugs
Violence, dull senses, impaired judgment, risk of arrest, loss of time and energy, monetary expense, if this list of disadvantages does not persuade you that staying clean is necessary for success in homelessness, then I don't know what will.

Quitting addiction will be one of the most difficult things you've ever done, but it will also be one of the wisest. Homelessness demands careful self-examination, intense self-knowledge, because it is through that knowledge that you will win in conflicts, and keep yourself happy and healthy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just Survive Somehow

When I ran away from home, I knew nothing about how to make my way, homeless or sheltered. I had a few skills, but very few that could easily be converted to money. I didn't know what challenges I would face, and I had no idea how much danger I was in. The future was theoretical but I was forced to live in reality.

I was bullied in grade school, and I quit high school when I was sixteen, a year before I ran. The alienation I'd learned from this fueled my decision to leave home, but did not teach me how to do it. I ran naked, no money, no work, no future, no plans, no rights. I survived by luck. Had my environment been even a little bit more hostile, I should have died. But day after day I found the resolve to forge forward; and even though I never knew where I would lay down to sleep, I understood not waking up was never an option.

My early bouts with homelessness tossed me head first into a chaotic life. I initially escaped my homelessness by relying upon friends to take me in. Bit this was not a permanent solution. It offered a brief respite in the middle of a hurricane. It took years before I found my own way, and in the process I became every kind of victim.

Homelessness, while it falls frequently upon the weak, is not for the weak or the unprepared. There is no manual or guide to prepare a person for what is around every turn. As children, we are taught to look forward to the future because it offers a way out. It offers expectations for a better life if we just work hard enough and make it happen. But my future was anything but utopian. It was bleak and uncertain and nothing I had dreamed of as a child.

I look back on this time with a detached horror. I can hardly relate to that earlier self. When people ask me what it felt like, I never know how to respond. How can I verbalized or communicate emotions and feelings that others only read about. I would pause and search for appropriate words to convey a narrative no one could relate to unless they had walked in my shoes.

By running away from domestic violence and embracing homelessness, I chose the best of an array of nightmarish options. No one should run without a plan. You have to know where you are going, and how you expect to earn money. Where you will live. Who you will trust. How you will cope and draw support. Without that plan, survival will be a roll of dice.

No one excels in homelessness; people just survive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How to get a job if you're homeless...

Everyone knows you can't work when you are homeless. Homeless people couldn't hold down a job if you gave them one. You'd have to supervise them all the time. They are lazy. They have no skills. They're probably illiterate. They will steal. They have no moral values. If they did, they wouldn't be homeless. Right?


What does it take to convince you to set aside what everyone knows? Homeless people come from all parts of society. They become homeless by choice or by circumstance. They have all levels and all kinds of skills, and homelessness has nothing to do with moral values.

Being homeless does not mean you are disabled. It doesn't mean you can't hold down a job. Holding down a job may require that you camouflage your homelessness, though, depending on what kind of work you do. If you are a white collar worker or a service industry worker, you must keep your secret hidden. Here is a brief prescription for maintaining the illusion of a home.

Read and follow the advice in the section on hygiene. The foremost giveaway of homelessness is bad odor.

Have work shirts laundered and pressed at a dry cleaner. Best is to hang them on a hook in the backseat of your car, but you can also have the laundry fold them and place them in boxes. They will have extra creases if you get them boxed. Take them in just three at a time, and get them out in groups of three. This will help you to keep them crisp. The dry cleaner will become your closet. Don't let anything stay at the cleaners for more than 30 days. Keep your cleaning tickets in your glove compartment, where you can find them.

Fold slacks flat and place them where they will not get rumpled. I usually kept them in my car's backseat. You don't need as many of them. Two or three pairs of pants will take you through a work week. People don't notice how often you change your pants. They notice your shirt.

Socks and underwear can be stored in a pillowcase, and even used as a pillow. Undershirts, casual shirts, and casual pants should be folded in half lengthwise, rolled, and also stored in a pillowcase. This is the most efficient possible use of your space.

Get a cheap phone and tell prospective employers that a text is the best way to reach you because otherwise members of your family may fail to give you messages. When you can afford it, upgrade to a different phone that might allow you to have better access to the Internet.

Okay, now you look like the rest of the housed world. Keep clean, wear a smile, and market the skills you have. You can add finishing touches to your look by keeping a nice haircut, and getting a $6 manicure at your nearest nail salon. Yes, men, too, can and should get manicures. Clean nails and hands convey the impression of wealth. When the cards have been continually stacked against you over the years, its nice to reshuffle the deck every now and again.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Walk On...

Over the years, I have had the privilege of having some incredible conversations with our residents. I can honestly say I've learned a great deal and would classify some of these amazing people as some of the wisest people I've ever met. Anytime a person shares their perspective on life, the conversation takes on a personal tone.

So much of what we believe is influenced by how we live and what we experience. It would be easy (and perhaps even rational) for the homeless to lash out and adopt a defensive and antagonistic tone. After all, life is certainly not easy for the homeless and it makes sense that any advice dispensed could be centered around elevating yourself by any means necessary, even if it is at the expense of others.

So it was refreshing when I was going through some of my notes and found this conversation with a man named *John. And I am happy to share some advice that runs counter to the way most of the world operates.

"There may be times when you are stolen from. You may be attacked or threatened. It may happen at the worst possible moment, when you really needed comfort, money, and kindness. You may be told to move on by police, get yelled at by a business or property owner, or be denied service. You might get a parking ticket, or have your vehicle towed. You might get cut off, pushed out of line, or otherwise mistreated. A security guard or bicycle cop may compensate for his bruised ego by being a total tyrant toward you. If you are a normal human being, with a normal level of natural steroids, you may feel just that spark of aggression.

You might be tempted to stand up for yourself and fight.

May I suggest an alternative? Don't.

Oh, I know, it's hard, but walk away. Get out of the fight. Give the mugger your wallet. Go to a different business if they don't want your money at this one. Thank police for the ticket. Be submissive toward police, and even toward security guards and bike cops.

Take the path of least violence, always. Never fight when you can run. If you see someone who has wronged you in the past, do not plot revenge. Your goal in survival is to get the things done that assist you, and avoid things that damage you. Karma is real, but it is instant. Those who fight get hurt. If you fight when you don't have to, you are a fool. If you are violent, harm will come to you.

I don't mean not to defend yourself, and your rights. I always inform police that I will not waive my fourth amendment right against unwarranted search, or my fifth amendment right not to incriminate myself, or my sixth amendment rights to know the charges against me and to have counsel to assist me in my defense. If someone is attacking me, I fight until I can flee. If someone else is being victimized, I will assist him to the best of my ability, but I do mean that you should take the path of least violence. You should understand what winning is in a conflict, and stop fighting when you win."

Thanks John... victory comes in many ways.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

One Size Doesn't Fit All

I love colloquialisms because they can take a big idea and pack it into an easy sentence or two that expresses a particular sentiment. We have all likely heard the phrase, "One size fits all." We get it. Sometimes we can make generalizations that are fairly accurate about lumping certain things together. But in other instances, this is not as easy or concise a job as this mantra proclaims.

Clearly, homeless people’s lives differ in many ways. The pattern of a person’s homelessness reveals a great deal about them and provides information about how to intervene in their lives in an effective manner. Take those who are newly homeless. People who are homeless for the first time and experiencing a single crisis may need relatively simple remedies, such as rental assistance, help negotiating with landlords, or referrals to public benefits or services. These are solutions that can specifically address their needs but would not be beneficial for other sorts of homeless individuals. Persons with repeated or long episodes of homelessness, however, are likely to need considerably more support for longer periods of time.

Using the most common type of data—surveys conducted at a single point in time—about one-fourth of homeless people report being continuously homeless for at least five years, and about one-fourth say they have gone in and out of homelessness numerous times. The rest are experiencing a first or second episode, which has usually lasted less than a year, or in some cases, only a few weeks or months. So it is apparent that 'one size does certainly not fit all.'

People who have weathered many episodes also tend to leave and return, or to leave and be replaced by others. Meanwhile, chronically homeless people remain without a place to live during the entire period. By the end of the year, chronically homeless people will make up a smaller number of the homeless population during the year than at a single point in time.

Data from the past 15 years indicates that the number of very poor people driven into homelessness for at least short periods has not diminished significantly. Families with children are still a large part of the mix. Over the past 15 years, the resources of the homeless service system, which gives people in desperate circumstances a place to go for help, have also increased. While essential, these services make visible and undeniable the severity of structural factors currently operating to produce homelessness.

So what are some solutions? With adequate housing resources, homelessness can also be averted for the many people who approach the homeless service system because they do not know where else to turn. Communities throughout the country that have committed such resources have developed a variety of effective programs to prevent homelessness.

It is our goal to eliminate homelessness in Kalispell, and we are counting on you to be a instrumental part of this equation. The first step is identifying some of the problems that are able to be addressed. From there, we can work together to build solutions that will change lives forever.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Get A Job

"Get a job."

Over the years I've heard so many people say this about the homeless that I stopped counting. It seems stereotypes too often replace facts with fantasy when dealing with the homeless and the issue of unemployment. It is easier to deride people and make them scapegoats than actually look at the situation through objective eyes. Attaining and securing employment can be a difficult feat for anyone, let alone someone dealing with homelessness.

And, oh... If you were a business owner, would you hire someone who is homeless?

Meaningful and sustainable employment is the key to creating and maintaining housing stability. Unemployment, underemployment, and low wages relative to rent are frequent causes of homelessness and burden millions of families with the risk of becoming homeless. At the same time, individuals experiencing homelessness face obstacles to finding and maintaining employment.

As a result, connecting people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness with job training and placement programs is critical to ensure they have the tools they need for long-term stability and success. Facilitating access to work supports like childcare subsidies and transportation assistance can help increase the likelihood that individuals will be able to retain employment.

Many members of the homeless population have to combat barriers that can be almost insurmountable in such a competitive environment. Such employment barriers include:

Low educational attainment levels.

Having young children with no access to child care.

Limited or no past work experience or marketable job skills.

Mental health or substance abuse problems.

Chronic health problems or disability.

Lack of access to transportation.

Bad credit (which can make both finding a job and a house difficult).

Criminal histories.

These barriers can decrease the types of employment available to an individual. Lack of access to technology also serves as a disadvantage for the homeless individuals searching for work. In this job market, some knowledge of computers and technology is essential for every field. Mainstream employment programs, where the homeless are a minority population, may meet some basic needs of some homeless individuals, but they struggle to encourage employment or provide adequate income and support.

According to an evaluation of the Job Training for the Homeless Demonstration Program (JTHDP), successful employment programs provide access to a wide variety of services, including housing, and assistance to help homeless individuals overcome employment barriers. The evaluation concluded that for employment programs to be most successful, they must directly target homeless individuals or those at risk of becoming homeless.

While employment and training programs geared to homeless people have proven to be effective in helping homeless persons obtain work, successful completion of an employment program by a homeless person does not necessarily end his or her homelessness. He or she still needs a decent job and a place to live.

Ending homelessness will require closing the gap between incomes and housing costs. In such an equation, jobs that pay a living wage are critical. Government, labor, and the private sector must work in concert to ensure that all Americans who can work have an opportunity to obtain a job, which pays a living wage, and the necessary supports, such as child care and transportation in order to keep it.

Maybe instead of pointing fingers, it would be more productive to extend them as part of a helping hand aimed at providing opportunities. Then, all of society benefits.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Chill in the Air

It happens slowly and subtly.

The air becomes a bit crisper and the chill greets you earlier in the morning and lingers longer in the evening than just a few weeks ago. Autumn finds its way to the Flathead about this time each year and, just like every year, I am caught off guard. Perhaps its because I grew up on the east coast in a place shrouded with trees that announced the season's changes with Technicolor regularity; the ever present evergreens seem to lull me into a sense of unawareness.

But its here. Soon there will be extreme cold weather in nearly every region in the state. Snow, ice and below normal temperatures will treacherous travel and perilous predicaments for anyone deciding to remain in Kalispell. It takes a special and unique type of person to willingly embrace a Montana winter. I've been here 20 years and still am in awe of the beautiful severity that accompanies some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. But I choose to live here.

Each year, as winter approaches and the temperature begins to drop, many homeless people move from the streets to their city’s shelter system to escape the cold because they happen to be here when winter's all-encompassing grip tightens around them. Samaritan House will be packed with people in desperate need of housing. Survival trumps luxury and the warmth and safety of the shelter is a better alternative than trying to live in the elements. And these are the fortunate ones.

In many rural areas in Montana, communities often have no outside resources to help them cope with the increased demand caused by cold weather conditions. Many cities offer expanded winter services only during certain months or only when the temperature falls below a pre-determined and arbitrary cut-off temperature. Above those cut-offs (hypothermia can occur in weather as warm as 50 degrees Fahrenheit) many cities do not offer resources to help the homeless people escape from the cold.

With nowhere to stay except the streets, people experiencing homelessness have a much higher risk than the general population of developing exposure-related conditions such as hypothermia and frostbite. These conditions can be immediately life threatening and may also increase the risk of dying from unrelated conditions in the future. Increased homeless services, especially additional shelter availability, are necessary to accommodate the amplified need in the winter.

Unless you have personally experienced homelessness, it is difficult to fathom what life on the streets is like in Montana during the winter. For years, we have been providing housing for people in danger of dying in the Montana winter. We cannot do this without help from people like you. We are so thankful for all the support the community provides so we can continue to offer a saving hand for those who will soon be staying with us as the temperature continues to slowly and steadily drop.

If you would like to donate toward the approaching winter season, please call our office at 257-5801. Thank you so much for your willingness to touch the lives of people you might never meet.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reality Shows

There is a popular TV show that focuses on the human condition and how we treat each other when we think no one is watching. The premise of the show revolves around every-day people who are put into situations where they must make a decision to either intervene in another person's life (who is an actor playing a part) or choose to ignore a situation that puts the observed person in some sort of jeopardy.

And alas...the entire spectacle is being filmed and the program host makes a surprise appearance in the midst of the chaos (with television cameras and crew in tow) to ask the unsuspecting observer why they did or did not offer assistance. Everyone has a laugh and a chuckle and then the program is over. But what when situations present themselves in real life and we are left to act without the auspices of being on television for the whole world to watch our benevolence? How do we treat one another when we have no audience to either applaud or efforts or chide or indifference?

Since the beginning of written history, there have been numerous philosophies espousing the importance of helping others because life is valuable and people matter. Whether you subscribe to Aristotle's golden mean, or Karma, or Hammurabi's code, or the Golden Rule in the New Testament, one thing is clear: it is important to help those in need. Ever since people have been putting reed to papyrus, the treatment of others has been a high priority in the scope of human history.

A friend of mine told me a story that gave me pause to consider what my response would be if I was put into a situation that required immediate action. He was fueling his car up at a local service station when he was approached by a man claiming to need a few dollars so he could put gas into his car. He was stranded at the same gas station as my friend, and needed to get from Kalispell to Polson.

Many of us have been in situations like this and maybe we've responded in different ways at different times. In this particular instance, my friend gave the man a few dollars and they parted ways. He opened his door, plopped into his driver seat and was immediately bombarded with advice and chastisement from his 13 year-old son who watched the whole scene unfold from the passenger seat.

His son told him it was a scam and that he probably just got taken for his money. The beneficiary of the exchange was likely going to buy some beer and have a good laugh. He was floored that his father could be so naïve and easily separated from his hard-earned cash. The rhetorical questions flowed from his son with such rapidity and ire that my friend barely had time to formulate a response before his son had moved on to the next verbal barrage.

After a few minutes and a few miles had passed, silence settled in the car and they just drove until they were almost home. My friend glanced over at his son and told him that there was a definite chance that the man at the gas station just wanted some fast cash and he didn't really need the money.

But what if he did?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

...The Rest of the Story

Here is the conclusion of my discussion with a group of high school seniors regarding homelessness in America.

The common consensus was that most people who ended up becoming homeless because of poor decisions they made. It was eye-opening when I had them do some research and they discovered some of the most common reasons people ended up homeless were:

* A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Recently, foreclosures have also increased the number of people who experience homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2013 Housing Wage is $18.79, exceeding the $14.32 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $4.50 an hour, and greatly exceeding wages earned by low income renter households.

* Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.

Two factors help account for increasing poverty:

1. Lack of Employment Opportunities – With unemployment rates remaining high, jobs are hard to find in the current economy. Even if people can find work, this does not automatically provide an escape from poverty.

2. Decline in Available Public Assistance – The declining value and availability of public assistance is another source of increasing poverty and homelessness and many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing as a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment. Additionally, most states have not replaced the old welfare system with an alternative that enables families and individuals to obtain above-poverty employment and to sustain themselves when work is not available or possible.

Other major factors, which can contribute to homelessness, include:

Lack of Affordable Health Care – For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction.

Domestic Violence – Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).
Mental Illness – Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).

Addiction – The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness.

The class period flew by and it was beneficial for all of us. Its too easy to stereotype people and these kids seemed interested in finding solutions rather than merely dwelling on the problems. By the end of the conversation, I think these future leaders of America had a few more things to consider than when we began talking. My hope is that the future transcends the present.

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Informative Discussion

Next year is an election year, and I've already covered the lack of exposure homelessness garners in political circles. I wish politicians would pay more attention to this issue but it rarely gets noticed because its not as trendy as the same 'ol talking points that candidates typically hammer away on, while never really telling us anything new.

Recently, I was talking to a group of high school seniors about homelessness and I was surprised how little they knew about homelessness in America. They could talk quite elegantly about immigration and foreign policy. We had a great discussion regarding national debt and national security. But after a while I thought I might throw a wrench in the conversation and introduce the topic of homelessness. The room got really quiet and no one had much to say. But I can't fault them because the issue is rarely, if ever, brought up.

They were stunned to know that homelessness is not exclusively an urban phenomenon. This perception exists mainly because homeless people are more numerous, more geographically concentrated, and more visible in urban areas. However, people experience the same difficulties associated with homelessness and housing distress in America's small towns and rural areas as they do in urban areas. Some of the students could not fathom that there were homeless people living in Kalispell.

Rural homelessness, like urban homelessness, is the result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing, and research has shown:

The odds of being poor are between 1.2 to 2.3-times higher for people in non-metropolitan areas than in metropolitan areas.

1 in 5 non-metro counties is classified as a ‘high poverty’ county (having a poverty rate of 20% or higher), while only 1 in 20 metro counties are defined as such.

Homeless people in rural areas are more likely to be white, female, married, currently working, homeless for the first time, and homeless for a shorter period of time.

We talked for a while about stereotypes regarding homeless people, covering the government-approved definitions of chronic, transitional, and episodic – which can be defined as follows:

Chronically homeless individual are most like the stereotyped profile of the “skid-row” homeless, who are likely to be entrenched in the shelter system and for whom shelters are more like long-term housing rather than an emergency arrangement. These individuals are likely to be older, and consist of the “hard-core unemployed”, often suffering from disabilities and substance abuse problems. Yet such persons represent a far smaller proportion of the population compared to the transitionally homeless.

Transitionally homeless individuals generally enter the shelter system for only one stay and for a short period. Such persons are likely to be younger, are probably recent members of the precariously housed population and have become homeless because of some catastrophic event, and have been forced to spend a short time in a homeless shelter before making a transition into more stable housing. Over time, transitionally homeless individuals will account for the majority of persons experiencing homelessness given their higher rate of turnover.

Those who are episodically homeless frequently shuttle in and out of homelessness are known as episodically homeless. They are most likely to be young, but unlike those in transitional homelessness, episodically homeless individuals often are chronically unemployed and experience medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems.

I will present the second part of our conversation later this week.

By the end of the conversation, I think these future leaders of America had a few more things to consider than when we began talking. My hope is that the future transcends the present.

*Statistics courtesy of national coalition for the homeless

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

...And the Oscar Goes to...

Since the beginning of our endeavor to provide housing for the homeless, thousands of people have passed through the open doors at Samaritan House. Each person has a unique story and our brief time with them provides only a snapshot of who they are and who they might become. It is easy to make assumptions that life will always be difficult for the homeless; Statistics point to an existence mired in poverty and complications. But we refuse to adopt this attitude and firmly believe those who stay with us for a while can go on to achieve amazing things.

Apple mastermind Steve Jobs crashed on friends' floors during college and returned glass Coke bottles to make a little bit of money. He recalled his meager beginnings during a commencement speech at Stanford University: "I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple."

Halle Berry found herself homeless when she was first starting her career in Chicago. She told Reader's Digest that she is actually grateful for the situation, saying, “It taught me how to take care of myself and that I could live through any situation, even if it meant going to a shelter for a small stint, or living within my means, which were meager."

Jim Carrey opened up about his experience with homelessness in an interview with “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton. Carrey recalled, “My father was a musician who got a 'regular job' to support his children. When he lost his job, that's when everything fell apart. We went from 'lower middle class' to 'poor.' We were living out of a van. I quit school at age 15 to begin working to help support my family as a janitor.”

So, who knows what will become of our residents once they depart Samaritan House and head off to whatever is next? I am not prophesying the next Academy Award winner will be from Kalispell. My expectations do not measure greatness through a celebratory grid; success is not defined by public notoriety or how magazine covers or financial portfolios. All I'm advocating is that we only see our residents for a short time and then they are gone so perhaps their paths can lead to places we would never expect. I'm not proclaiming the next Steve Jobs is at our shelter.

...of course I'm not ruling it out, either.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Practical Advice

Someone wiser than I once said, “If you’re in a hole... stop digging.” Good words to live by. It means to stop using any more money that will cause your expenses to out weigh your income. A common mistake most people that are struggling make is that they are oblivious to their financial disposition. They don’t know where their break-even point is. They don’t know what their base average monthly expenses are in respect to their monthly cash flow

Sometimes we forget how easy it is to find your self in a financial jam. If you live on your own, and you're barely staying ahead of your bills, you could easily fall prey to being homeless. Even if you are a two-income family without a large savings parachute, it doesn't take much to off-set the fragile balance.

Like so many families in America, you live paycheck to paycheck with little chance of putting together any kind of a savings plan. Families usually have a months worth of income to live off of in case of an emergency – but that’s it. Their financial status is such that if one thing goes wrong – like the car needs a new transmission – all reserve savings will be lost. A job loss at this time from one of the wage earners will only increase the tension. The monthly bills keep coming, and soon, you have to scramble for the rent or the mortgage.

This is the ‘homeless formula’. It's a myriad of problems and expenses that hit one after another, until all your bills are way behind, and you find yourself facing your first homeless night.

You should know exactly where you are financially - this means you should know how much expenses you have verses incoming moneys every month. If your expenses are more than your income, you need to take your scissors out and start cutting the fat from your monthly frill bills.

When you know what your base monthly expense is, versus what income you’ll make at the end of the month, you’ll be more apt to resist foolish spending. Just knowing what your numbers are will make you react more frugally to the sirens of the fast food restaurants.

You need to keep adding to your savings with every check you deposit. As soon as you have a handle on your bills, incorporate a pay-yourself-first habit. Try to accumulate at least six months of income as fast as you can. Having the peace of mind in knowing that you have the financial backing for 6 months should an emergency occur, will give you the time you need to ensure you land on your feet. Once you reach your 6 month savings target, you can consider investments, retirement funds or other needs that you or your family have put off.

When you know what your base monthly expense is, versus what income you’ll make at the end of the month, you’ll be more apt to resist foolish spending. Just knowing what your numbers are will make you react more frugally to the sirens of the fast food restaurants.The more you are in tune with your finances, the more of a fun game it becomes. It gives you a charge when you save more than you expected to – this also fuels your thought process into thinking where else you can cut, stretch, re-use and recycle.

Your entrepreneurial spirit may surface and give you an incredible idea to market. You’ll soon find that once you start purposefully safeguarding against mindless spending, you’ll wonder why you didn't start this a long time ago.

Anyway... just some practical advice.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Problem With Simplification

Anytime we discuss problems related to youth homelessness, there is potential to oversimplify things. I realize this issue is multilayered and can't be corralled into neat, explainable packages. There are always mitigating factors that need to be taken into account, so we need to keep that in the back of our minds. However, to address youth homelessness topically, here are three inter-related categories.

Family problems. This might be the most obvious, but it still needs to be mentioned. When a child feels unsafe in their living environment, everything breaks down and that child can find him or herself considering options no kid should have to consider. Disruptive family conditions are the principal reason that young people leave home and many homeless youth leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and potential parental neglect.

According to interviews conducted by the Street Outreach Program through the US Department of Health & Human Services, youth attributed homelessness to the following causes:

51.2% were asked to leave home by a parent or guardian
24.7% were unable to find a job
23.8% were physically abused, beaten, or left due to caretaker's drug or alcohol abuse
17% were forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member

Economic problems. Some youth may become homeless when their families suffer financial crises resulting from lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities, insufficient wages, no medical insurance, or inadequate welfare benefits. In these instances, the kids suffer for happenings out of their control. Youth may become homeless while still with their families, but may be separated from their families by the shelter, transitional housing, or child welfare policies.

I've spoken to enough of our residents over the year to know that there are few things more heartbreaking than a parent who feels responsible for the homeless condition of their family. Children suffer greatly when they are forced out of the comfort and stability of their homes and forced to readjust to life in a shelter.

Residential instability. Some youth living in residential or institutional placements such as foster care, become homeless because they are discharged or emancipated with no housing or income support. One national study reported that more than one-in-five youth who arrived at shelters came directly from foster care, and that more than one-in-four had been in foster care in the previous year.

So there you have it, a brief summary of just a few reasons youth homelessness is an important issue in America. And the most important thing to remember is that these kids are really out there, right now, living their lives as you are reading these words. They are not merely demographics or statistics and this issue will not solve itself.
Information courtesy of

Monday, September 14, 2015

When I Grow Up...

I remember when I was a kid and adults would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up? The reply was almost always something bigger than life. In no particular order, I would rifle off a list including (but not limited to): astronaut, archeologist, fighter pilot, soccer star, president, and a few other jobs I imagined were simply up for the taking. Over the years it became apparent what was within my grasp and I am happy with my current station in life even if I never married Alyssa Milano or became a professional jet pack tester.

One thing I never would have thought about was the possibility that I might grow up to be homeless. Most kids don't consider this because it's not a topic children think about.
Homelessness is a major social concern in the United States, and youth may be the age group most at risk of becoming homeless.

The number of youth who have experienced homelessness varies depending on the age range, timeframe, and definition used, but sources estimate that between 500,000 and 2.8 million youth are homeless within the United States each year. This is a far cry from dreams of being a doctor or lawyer. And it is not a simple case of kids deciding to abandon their homes because they have their phone taken away and are mad.

Youth run away for a whole host of reasons, including involvement in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and severe family conflict. These youth are vulnerable to a range of negative experiences including exploitation and victimization. Runaway and homeless youth have high rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system, are more likely to engage in substance use and delinquent behavior, be teenage parents, drop out of school, suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, and meet the criteria for mental illness.

Experiences of unaccompanied homeless youth are different from those who experience homelessness with their families. While negative experiences persist for youth who are homeless with their families, their experiences may not vary drastically from youth living in poverty. Studies have also found distinct variability in outcomes experienced by homeless youth, suggesting that youth experience homelessness differently.

Providing timely and direct interventions to homeless and runaway youth is important to protect them from the risks of living on the streets and to support positive youth development, yet despite the risks and needs of these youth, few appear to know of, and access, support services. Even more critical is addressing the family or parental needs to prevent youth and their families from becoming homeless and addressing their behavioral health needs through comprehensive methods that involve both youth and their families.

No one wants to grow up to be homeless. I'll have more about this topic later in the week because if we truly believe that the youth represent the future of our country, there needs to be recognition that this is, indeed, a problem that is not going to go away on its own.