Friday, March 20, 2015

Cowboy Up Auction

Samaritan House is happy to present its 8th Annual Cowboy Up Auction!

Please join us on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at Gardner's Auction Barn, located on US Highway 93 South (just south of Kalispell).

$35 each/Tables of 8
$245 reserved in advance
Price includes:

Pulled Pork Dinner
Roasted potatoes and baked beans
Live music by Smart Alex

Ticket holder raffle
Live and silent auctions

Doors open at 5pm
Dinner at 6pm

Beer and wine available for purchase

Call 257-5801 for tickets or more information

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Homeless and in College

It's March, and that means people all over the country are filling out brackets for one of the most anticipated events in all of sports: The NCAA basketball tournament. I love this time of year and it made think about all the different teams participating... Which led me to think of all the different types of students receiving a free education through scholarships... Which made me wonder how many homeless students attended college... Which prompted me to do some research and discover this article... Which I now will share with the rest of you, courtesy of USA Today.

Though hard data are lacking, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid estimates that there are 58,000 homeless students on campuses nationwide.

When Tina Giarla finished her first semester at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., she didn't worry about getting home during winter break or buying new winter clothes.

She worried about where she would live for the next month, and where she would live once she returned to school.

Giarla is one of thousands of homeless college students in the U.S. struggling to find a place to live.

But the situation isn't new to her — Giarla has been an "unaccompanied youth" since her father died in 2007 and her mother was consistently in and out of jail. During her senior year, Giarla lived with her best friend and her family until graduation.

She lived on campus at Salem State until her resources ran out and she couldn't afford housing anymore.

"It felt like my past was just creeping up on me again," Giarla says. "I worked two-and-a-half jobs and went to school full-time. I had to save extra money to rent a hotel in the case of an emergency so I wouldn't have to go to a shelter. It wasn't a comfortable feeling."

She currently takes care of her grandfather and lives in his house in Salem.

"I didn't get to enjoy the college experience," Giarla says. "I had to make sure I was working and had a roof over my head. My primary focus was my education."

Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) says she believes the number of homeless students has increased over the last few years.

But she isn't sure, partly because there isn't sufficient national data.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid tells the NAEHCY that there are 58,000 homeless students on campuses nationwide.

Since colleges are not required to keep track of their homeless students, the FASFA form is the only significant data available.

According to the NAEHCY, many homeless students trying to go to college don't receive enough financial aid because they can't provide information about their parents or guardians on the form. Several pieces of legislation have helped remove the barriers between homeless students and financial aid, such as the recent Higher Education Act.

This legislation allows students to apply for federal aid without parental information or a signature. The act also allows financial aid administrators to designate a student as independent in extreme circumstances.

Duffield says the struggling economy is part of the reason behind college homelessness.

"Parents tend to start focusing resources on younger kids, and sometimes that can lead to abuse and neglect," she says. "Sometimes they just can't take care of them anymore."

"But for most students, they haven't had that support their whole lives," Duffield says.

Colleges across the nation are starting programs to help homeless students on campus.

At UCLA, if a student is affected by an economic crisis, the Economic Crisis Response Team will take measures to help a student stay in school. The team provides help in the form of meal vouchers, scholarship information and emergency financial aid assistance.

The NAEHCY also awards scholarships to students and assigns them a case manager to help them through college. The association also focuses on policies that help raise awareness among financial aid administrators.

Duffield says she thinks colleges are becoming more aware of the problem by offering counseling and starting programs such as on-campus food banks. In Stony Brook, N.Y., students who can't afford meal plans and don't qualify for food stamps can use their food pantry.

Giarla says she would've nearly given up if she hadn't reached out to counselors and professionals on campus. She urges colleges around the nation to become aware of their homeless students and reach out to them and offer support.

"There aren't enough services readily available or known, it's almost as if it doesn't exist," she says. "That makes it more likely to have an abundance of homeless students. It should be a lot more than just receiving money for basic costs."

Giarla plans on using her situation to help raise awareness of the growing homeless population at universities nationwide.

As a business management major, she wishes to pursue a career in advocacy against homelessness, and hopefully persuade legislatures to make a change in higher education.

"My experience keeps me going, it's made me who I am," she says. "These are the cards I was dealt and I have to play them in a strategic way."

Lexy Gross is a junior at Murray State University.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Penny A Day

In researching the issue of elder homelessness, I came across this article that summarizes the narrative and places a personal touch on the issue:

If aging is not for sissies, that's especially true if you're homeless. You can be on your feet for hours, or forced to sleep in the frigid cold or seriously ill with no place to go. But, increasingly, the nation's homeless population is getting older. By some estimates, more than half of single homeless adults are 47 or older.

And there's growing alarm about what this means — both for the aging homeless and for those who have to foot the bill. The cost to society, especially for health care and social services, could mushroom.

As in many cities across the country, there are plenty of homeless people in Baltimore, Md., — about 4,000 by the latest count. In the early morning hours, dozens of bundled-up men, carrying backpacks and duffle bags, emerge from an unmarked door next to a parking garage downtown.

This is the city's overflow homeless shelter for men, and the residents need to be out by 5 a.m., before office workers start to arrive downtown for the day.

The emergency room is a frequent destination for the homeless in every city across the U.S. The list of ailments for those living on the streets is long — blood clots, chronic pain, exposure, diabetes. It's even longer for those in their 50s and 60s, which is considered elderly when you're homeless. The life expectancy is only 64.

On a recent chilly morning, some men head from the Baltimore shelter to their jobs, as cooks or handymen. Others go to the city's day shelter to get warm. Still others head to a nearby clinic, run by a non-profit group which opens at 7:30 a.m. About a dozen people spent the night outside the clinic sleeping on the concrete steps. It's something of a safe haven.

Their priority isn't to get preventive care. It's to make sure there's a roof over their head and food in their stomach. Here, as in similar clinics across the country, a growing percentage of patients are 50 and older. The nursing services coordinator Yvonne Jauregui says many of them are in pretty bad shape by the time they arrive.

"Their priority isn't to get preventive care. It's to make sure there's a roof over their head and food in their stomach," she says.

Jauregui notes dental care as an example. She says it's not a priority at all. "It's until, 'I can't chew because my tooth hurts so bad and the tooth needs to come out' — that's when we see them," she says.

There are other challenges for the homeless. Diabetics have nowhere to refrigerate their insulin. They're not allowed to bring syringes needed for such medication into homeless shelters. Medication is often stolen. And sometimes those with serious foot and leg problems can't get to a doctor.

"They are prone to having a lot of foot issues," says Jauregui. "Plus, it's like their primary mode of transportation."

Sixty-four-year-old Linwood Hearne is a case in point. He and his wife have been homeless for four years.

"I can't balance myself. I can't walk well. I'm getting very forgetful," Hearne says. "I have prostate cancer I have a lot of mental problems that's going on with me. I'm a paranoid schizophrenic. I suffer from manic depression."

Growth in the aging homeless population is due largely to one group — younger baby boomers — those born between 1955 and 1965. He notes that they came of age in the late '70s and '80s, amid back-to-back recessions and a crack cocaine epidemic. Individuals in this age group are almost twice as likely as those in other age groups to be homeless.

"These are folks who have been living on the margins, in and out of jail, in and out of shelters, in and out of treatment programs for the last thirty, thirty five years," he says.

A few communities have started to build special housing for the elderly homeless. Baltimore and other cities are also trying to get those most likely to die on the streets into permanent supportive housing. But funds are limited and getting housing isn't easy for those with limited means. Lots of people living in the streets, have a history marred with mistakes.

He was evicted from public housing years ago because he stabbed a neighbor in a fight. But he says he's already served his sentence — a three-year probation — and shouldn't be condemned to life, and maybe death, on the street.

One man and his wife have slept outside for much of the past four years, mostly under a highway across from a health care for the homeless clinic. There are blankets, bags and mattresses stacked there, along a cement wall, and a few white buckets used as urinals. About two dozen people sleep there every night.

"I know it looks terrible, but this was our home," the man says. "We shouldn't have to live like this."

With that, he leans over to pick something up off the ground. It's a penny.

"A penny a day keeps the doctor away, right?" he asks. "That's what they say."

*Story courtesy of National Public Radio

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What Causes Elder Homelessness?

A recent study found that the majority of the elderly homeless composes around 24% of the total homeless population. Leading factors included financial/employment problems, interpersonal conflict, and mental health problems as the main reasons. It is apparent we need increased attention to the elderly homeless, not because nearly 1 out of every 4 homeless people are elderly, but because they are people, period,

There are stark contrasts between the needs of the elderly homeless and their younger counterparts. The most obvious is increased physical and mental frailty of elderly homeless. The elderly are more much more likely than their younger counterparts to have chronic medical conditions, or have two or more medical conditions. Mental health disorders also indicate a reflection of the inherent and gradual aging process.

A unique aspect affecting the elderly is the problem brought about by dementia. This has practical ramifications due to the medical management of this group. But there is also an intimate and emotional component that cripples families. The grief associated with dementia is disabling, as losing loved ones has rippling effects.

Financial and employment difficulties head the list of top contributing factors to elderly homelessness. Even though vocational rehabilitation is needed in the general homeless population, it is more crucial in the elderly homeless population for a number of reasons. Ageism from employers, a lack of job skills, erratic work histories, and a shorter projected lifespan renders investing in older employees a higher risk.

Another frequent cause is lack of social support. With age comes a deterioration of social ties as peers and loved ones pass away. When this happens, the elderly often lose avenues of social interaction. If they relied on others for transportation, elements of their freedom are taken away.

And what about shelters? Some research shows there is a tendency for elderly men to live outside, in camps, or in other places not intended for habitation, because they do not feel safe in shelters. There is a tendency to avoid shelters out of fear of being victimized by younger homeless people overnight. No matter how safe and secure the facility is, some elderly instead view more transient forms of existence as safer. Montana is a rural state and rural homelessness is a prevalent concern. The elderly homeless in rural areas are even more hidden than their urban counterparts.

*Sources: The Chicago Homeless Prevalence Study.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Elder Homelessness

Both sets of my grandparents worked.

They had pensions and savings because they lived frugally. Eventually, and under different circumstances (and different times), my mother’s dad came to live with us when I was younger. His wife passed and he could no longer physically take care of himself so he lived with us for a few years until his own death. The same phenomenon was repeated with my dad’s mom nearly two decades later.

As a child I didn’t put much thought into what happened. I loved my grandfather and was happy to have the chance to spend time with him on a daily basis. However, when my grandmother came to live with us, I was much more cognizant of the circumstance surrounding her arrival. It opened my eyes to the dilemma facing many elderly people who are literally one relative away from being homeless. Those who find minimum wage jobs, after retirement, so they can still live on their own if they are fortunate enough to have their health intact.

Both sets of my grandparents were born into a generation that escaped the Great Depression, fought the Axis powers, saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, and witnessed the birth of the internet age. Both sets worked hard in blue-collar jobs to live within their means and provide for their respective families. Both pledged their allegiance to America and raised Old Glory every morning on flagpoles in their front yards. And both faced the prospect of homelessness in the very country they loved more than anything.

It is not difficult to find people working past their retirement age. Sometimes this is by choice and due to a desire to be active. After years of laboring and adapting to a routine, some people cannot simply flip a switch and deescalate from 60-0 mph. Life has conditioned them to an attitude of working and they find joy and meaning in employment and interaction with others.

But there are others who have to work to survive, toiling at jobs where their coworkers are often decades younger than they are. Trying to pay their bills. Trying to find reliable transportation. Trying to retain the dignity they lived their lives with by working at places they were used to frequenting as patrons. Trying not to have their freedom curtailed by moving in with relatives.

Trying to avoid homelessness.

This week, we will look at elderly homelessness and an issue that surrounds us every day but often goes unnoticed. Over the years, we have had numerous elderly residents at Samaritan House who work up to two jobs so they can afford permanent housing. We have seen, firsthand, the difficulties facing a demographic that has given so much to this country. This is a group that transcends statistics and spreadsheet numbers; rather, it is composed of parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Leg to Stand On

I am a visual person and sometimes picturing things helps me conceptualize ideas I'm trying to explain. Employment for the homeless is an issue we have discussed a great deal on this blog, and it is important to see the connection between confidence and competence. If an individual has poor self image, it effects their job performance.

Imagine your self-esteem is a table and the legs represent your health, work, home and emotional support respectively. If one leg buckles, it puts pressure on the others. If another leg goes, the table crashes to the ground. Each one is connected to the other, and while they stand alone, the picture is not complete unless each one works in conjunction with the others. Imbalance leads to collapse. This simple analogy not only helps explain how anyone can become homeless, but also why getting homeless people back into sustained work is a complex challenge. Sadly, we often see just the surface of the broken table without understanding which leg is broken.

Getting homeless people into sustained employment is not just about putting a roof over their heads and bringing their qualifications, interview techniques and experience up to par. These factors are important but, in isolation, do not help solve the problem with lasting permanence. You can give someone a house, but they're still mentally homeless if they don't know how to interact with others. These social and interpersonal variables need to be changed to constants.

Many homeless people people lack life skills that are grown and cultivated by simply living in a stable and fixed environment. These include self-confidence, self-awareness and the ability to structure a day. Things that many housed people take for granted, as part of a daily routine, must be relearned by people who transition from being homeless to having a permanent address. Most people who have a support network of friends, family and work take these skills for granted. But without them, sustaining employment can be incredibly difficult.

Job services and employment counseling are key components in the ready-to-work scheme. Clearly, sustainable employment will be difficult if long-term support in the workplace is not mirrored outside it. If a person has stable housing but has a current mental health or substance abuse problem with which they are not getting any support, it is going to put a strain on employment. Work alone is not enough to prevent people from falling back into homelessness, although the value of sustainable employment cannot be underscored.

An essential step forward in terms of homelessness would be to step back and focus on the skills that can give someone a quality of life. Funding for programs that accomplished this, rather than just those that put a roof over people's heads, are vital for the construction of a lasting and efficient system. Thinking needs to change in seeing life skills as the way out of homelessness. Perhaps then our table will have a leg to stand on.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Just the Beginning

Homelessness is not often synonymous with employment. The very nature of homelessness implies an incredible deficit that must be overcome. It stands to reason that if a person is homeless, they must also be jobless. But these terms are not mutually exclusive and over the years at Samaritan House, many of our residents were employed at various places. It’s impossible to say how many, but it’s likely that a significant number of people experiencing homelessness are employed, have an employment history, or are seeking employment.

Statistics are interesting because you can make them say whatever you want. Polls can be skewed and numbers wrangled to transform majorities into minorities and vice versa. So, while hard numbers were difficult to ascertain for this topic, I hope the sentiment peeps through in spite of the lack of concrete numbers. Homeless people who are employed often face the same challenges as many other workers: low wages, underemployment, and temporary and sporadic opportunities.

Unemployment for the homeless is often due to a combination of obstacles such as lack of experience, physical or mental health barriers, challenges related to re-entry from incarceration or hospitalization, and homelessness itself. And while each one of these, by itself, can be crippling, the culmination of a few of them can be downright debilitating. During times of widespread economic hardship when the job market tightens and more applicants compete for fewer opportunities, homeless applicants are at a distinct disadvantage. We  can take a look at some of these factors in my next blog, later this week.

To combat this problem, programs can focus on a few key factors to help this population achieve economic security. After all, ending homelessness will never happen if we don't address the issues that render a person homeless. Permanent housing is never permanent until employment sustainability is achieved.  For this to work, a few key components of these programs should include:

A coordinated system of training
Employment development
Financial literacy education
Traditional supportive services

Employment services can help people build the skills necessary to increase their income, attain financial independence, and maintain housing. Such services have also been shown to increase confidence and positive mental health outcomes, even for populations traditionally believed to be unsuitable for regular employment. Integrating homeless populations into the workforce is also important for reasons beyond building confidence and self-sufficiency. Employment reduces the burden on social services, broadens the base of taxpayers, and encourages scalable community collaborations and partnerships to address issues of homelessness, unemployment, and poverty.

It sounds a bit trite and simplistic, but it is the truth: the entire community wins if there are economic opportunities for the homeless. In all my years of working and interacting with homeless people, one overwhelming theme constantly expresses itself. This is the desire of most people to work. Employment allows a framework for autonomy and an opportunity for the individual to make the proper steps toward permanent housing. But having a job and keeping a job are two entirely different things.

More on that, next.