Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Homeless Survivial, Continued

Here is the second part of the list of important items a person needs to have to live on the streets.

5. Clothes- Homeless people prefer to layer their clothes. This means you wear all of your various layers of clothes during the night, but as the day progresses, you can remove each layer successively. This allows you to keep cool when you need, and warm if it gets too cold. A good pair of leg warmers is recommended for wearing under your pants. In addition, you will need a good scarf and a hooded sweatshirt.

4. Headwear- In summer you will need a baseball cap to protect you from the sun – this is essential to prevent you from suffering sun stroke and even potentially getting skin cancer from overexposure. It can also help to conceal a head of hair badly in need of a cut which can be very off-putting to people you may need to deal with. In winter you will need a good warm ski knit hat. A lot of the body’s heat escapes through the head, therefore this is one of the most important things you will need in winter.

3. Shoes- You absolutely must have a good quality pair of shoes – especially in winter. If you have a hole in your shoe and your socks get wet, you will have a miserable few days with wet feet – this can, of course, lead to health problems that you want to avoid. If you do not have quality shoes, use all the money you can muster to get good shoes without holes. Make sure you wear socks – shoes rubbing on the skin can cause lesions.

2. Bags- Plastic garbage bags are essential to life on the streets. They will be raincoats in winter, and protection from the sun in summer. You can use them to protect your matting from the wet ground

1. Miscellaneous- It is very important that you travel light. You want to keep your belongings to a minimum and the items above cover virtually everything you will need. Having said that, you should consider carrying a few other smaller items that can be invaluable. For example, priority mailing envelopes (free at the post office) are great for storing things and they are durable and water proof. You may also want to keep a bottle or two to store things like coffee. Forget things like flashlights – they are heavy, the batteries run out, and they show everyone exactly where you are – and you probably want to remain fairly anonymous and blend in on the streets.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Essentially Non-Essential

From time to time, I enjoy posting a good list on this blog. I admit it’s a rare occasion, but sometimes the mood hits me and before I realize it, I’m typing away and wrangling a couple arbitrary ideas into some sort of list for easy digestion. A few days ago I noticed a gentleman walking down the street with nothing more than a large army duffle bag strapped across his back. I wondered what contents were in his bag and that led me to consider what it would be like if I could only have a limited number of supplies with me at any given time.

Since it was essential he could only carry the most important things with him, I wondered what those essential items were. This led me to do some research and try to find some opinions on what 10 things would be the most practical items for a person to keep as they traversed the streets. So, what does a person need when living on the streets? Here are numbers 6-10, and I will reveal the top 5 later this week.

10. Sleeping bag– Preferably one made of down because it is lightweight and very compact. This is the most vital piece of equipment you will need. You can either stash the bag, or carry it with you. Carrying it makes you more mobile because you can sleep wherever you end up. If you can’t get a good quality down bag, double bagging two poor quality ones will do the job (though definitely not as well).

9. Matting (preferably plastic and lightweight) – You must keep your sleeping bag off the ground away from the damp. If you can’t find or buy matting, at least make sure you put your sleeping bag on cardboard because putting it directly on concrete will result in feeling like you are sleeping on a block of ice. The cold can cause back muscles to freeze up and numb and the result is that when you stretch in the night you can tear them – potentially leading to months of difficulty walking (and walking is what you need to be doing every day).

8. Backpacks– Consider keeping a smaller backpack for use during the day and a larger one that you can stash. You should keep in mind that some states in the US have “camping bans” which make it illegal to walk around the city with a large camping backpack. One homeless man was even refused service at a restaurant because they “do not serve people with backpacks” – clearly discrimination against the homeless – but you need to be aware of this. A small day backpack will spare you all of these problems.

7. Toiletries- Soap, a toothbrush, razors, at the very least. These you should keep with you in your day backpack. It is also worth trying to score a mirror of some kind; just because you are living on the street doesn’t mean you can’t take care of your appearance – you will certainly find life easier when dealing with non-homeless people.

6. Utility items- Small items are very handy to have when you live on the street. For example, you will want a needle and thread to fix minor tears and loose buttons – this can save you a lot of trouble trying to find new clothes – especially in winter. You will also probably want a couple of pens or pencils (you never know when you might need these). It goes without saying that an essential item is a can opener – without one of these you limiting the types of food you can buy (and canned goods are often the cheapest). You will also want a pair of scissors which you can use for trimming your own hair, cutting your nails, and for any other task that may require the use of something sharp. A bottle opener and / or a corkscrew is also useful. And finally, a box of matches or a lighter is essential.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kalispell Heart Program

Summer is almost here. I can feel in peeking around the corner, waiting for the last throes of Spring to dissipate. And with the arrival of summer comes the abandonment of anything school-related. Kids are freed from the constraints of homework and detention and school lunches the really love but pretend to hate so they can seem cool. But some students dread this time if year because they will lose the routine of a daily schedule that afforded them structure and stability. To homeless students, summer is not synonymous with vacation.

I will address this issue soon, but wanted to take this opportunity to inform you about a great site that will keep you abreast about the educational needs and challenges facing the homeless students in Kalispell. Please go to for more information about how you can help.

Families with children are by most accounts among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In the United States today, an estimated 1.35 million children are likely to experience homelessness over the course of a year (The Institute for Children and Poverty). This number represents two percent of all children in the United States, and ten percent of all poor children in the United States.

Homelessness has a devastating impact on homeless children and youth’s educational opportunities. Residency requirements, guardianship requirements, delays in transfer of school records, lack of transportation, and lack of immunization records often prevent homeless children from enrolling in school. Homeless children and youth who are able to enroll in school still face barriers to regular attendance: while 87% of homeless youth are enrolled in school, only 77% attend school regularly (U.S. Department of Education).

In addition to enrollment problems, the high mobility associated with homelessness has severe educational consequences. Homeless families move frequently due to limits on length of shelter stays, search for safe and affordable housing or employment, or to escape abusive partners. All too often, homeless children have to change schools because shelters or other temporary accommodations are not located in their school district. In recent years, 42% of homeless children transferred schools at least once, and 51% of these students transferred twice or more (Institute for Children and Poverty).

Every time a child has to change schools, his or her education is disrupted. According to some estimates, 3-6 months of education are lost with every move. In a recent study of homeless children in New York City, 23% of homeless children repeated a grade, and 13% were placed in special education classes, many times inappropriately (Institute for Children and Poverty). Homeless children are thus at high risk for falling behind in school due to their mobility. Without an opportunity to receive an education, homeless children are much less likely to acquire the skills they need to escape poverty as adults.

-thanks to national coalition on homelessness.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Recently, I wrote an article posing the idea that Internet access has become a basic right. I have to admit this sounds strange and my initial instinct was to to relegate this theory to some other ideas that appeared solid but, after further examination, didn't hold up to the scrutiny of cross examination (please forgive me Pet Rocks, Chia Pet, and the entire Fast and Furious franchise). Labeling something as a right has strong implications and we shouldn't throw that concept around without considering the ramifications.

There are a few rights all Americans acknowledge, even if we disagree about the meaning and facilitation of those rights. People are entitled to live, have some elements of freedom, and pursue a life of productivity and enjoyment. Also, in social services, there is a strong belief all people should have food, clothing, shelter, employment, and access to education. Again, we like to squabble over the semantics of these ideas, and even if some would protest a few of them, at least a rational discussion could be made for basic inclusion or exclusion.

Disclaimer: I was born in 1975 and grew up before the digital age dawned. I didn't have an email address until I was 20 years old and social networking is a concept that is not second nature. As I write this, I am not biased toward a wireless world because it was my default setting. If anything, I still remember the good 'ol days when Tweeting was confined to trees, a Tumblr was a misspelled gymnast, and Pintrest and Instagram still confuse me because even though I recognize some of their syllables, they still some seem like real words.

But I get it. I refuse to be an old curmudgeon who sees iThings as fads. This is the world we live in and it will only accelerate. Interconnectivity is not a WAY of life anymore; it IS life. We message each other while we're in the same rooms. We perpetually like and dislike ideas and comments with our friends, many of whom we haven't actually (verbally) spoken with in years. I get it. But is the Internet something we are entitled to?

Forget the social elements for a minute and simply consider the pragmatic aspects. Have you purchased something, checked work emails or accounts, made a reservation for anything, or worked on an educational assignment from your home (or phone) in the past 24 hours? Me too. The Internet has moved from luxury to necessity for many people, so should access to it be something every person should get?

I am not advocating for an iPad in every kitchen and a laptop for everyone. I'm simply raising the point that life is changing and those without access to the Internet will be forced to live a secondary existence. They will survive, but it will be an antiquated and primitive form of living, relatively speaking. Many homeless fall into this category. Life is challenging enough for people living in shelters or places not meant for human habitation. But their problems are compounded when they can't keep up with those who are evolving and adapting to the times. This is a multilayered issue that isn't going away, so what can we do to foster healthy dialogue about it?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Different Needs for Different People

Research consistently shows that people experiencing homelessness want to work. In fact, many are employed, but often precariously. The broader homeless population faces a variety of barriers to employment, including the experience of homelessness itself, plus other obstacles such as lack of experience, physical or mental health barriers, and challenges related to re-entry from incarceration or hospitalization.

Many employers are reluctant to hire individuals who formerly or are currently experiencing homelessness. A study by the Chronic Homelessness Employment Technical Assistance Center (CHETA) found that provider staff members are “frequently challenged by pervasive negative stereotypes when approaching employers about hiring qualified homeless job seekers.” These stereotypes extend beyond the chronically homeless and include:

Doubts that this group of people can obtain work, or want to work.

Questions about the motivation and capabilities and reliability of the population.

Concerns about how they will integrate into the workplace.

Conceptions about appearance, dress, habits, cleanliness and the impact of the ‘popular image’ of homelessness that feeds biases. The same study found that even participants had personal doubts and fear about overcoming barriers at least partially related to their lack of success in the past.

Trauma also plays a role in the employability of populations experiencing homelessness. For some individuals, traumatic experiences can lead to an episode of homelessness. Others experience trauma during their experience of homelessness. Thirdly, homelessness itself can be a traumatic experience.

Some people experiencing homelessness have both separate and overlapping barriers to employment, so strategies should be tailored to individual needs rather than attempting to apply one-size-fits-all solutions.

Helping individuals overcome their barriers to employment requires an understanding that different subpopulations face a variety of obstacles and are likely to need closely tailored interventions:

Families with Children - provide access to affordable childcare, family management training, occupational skills training, and flexible employment options, in addition to income and housing supports.

Youth - help develop leadership skills, engage in positive relationships with adults and practice appropriate workplace behavior, and choose a career pathway that works best for them.

Older Adults - help them understand their employment potential, and tailor training and employment options to their needs.

Veterans - draw from their previous military work experience and the occupational training, teamwork, and leadership skills they attained there, help manage trauma and the transition back to the civilian workforce.

Individuals with a Criminal Record and People Leaving Prison - help participants navigate legal obstacles, tailor job search activities and consider employer incentives, and provide follow-along supports.

Individuals with Disabling Conditions, Substance Abuse Issues, and Health Issues - provide streamlined access to permanent supportive housing, quality health care, and benefits counseling, provide the necessary accommodations in both the employment program and the workplace, assist with anti-discrimination efforts, help participants navigate the demands of both work and health, integrate employment services with a treatment regimen including collaboration with addiction counselors and drug testing, foster social support, and work with participants to overcome substance use issues on the job.

Many people experiencing homelessness want to work. With the right blend of supports, most can overcome their personal barriers to do so successfully. Diverse models and tools exist for employment specialists and service providers to tailor their approaches for individualized jobseekers and workforce needs. Successful employment interventions can promote not only personal development and healthier habits for individuals experiencing homelessness, but also broader societal goals, including helping to prevent and end homelessness. Employment is just one component of this broader undertaking, but it is a crucial one.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of... Internet?

When you think of a homeless person the first or the last thing that comes to mind is not usually a computer. However, the Internet plays a crucial role in shaping the lives and future of many homeless people in Kalispell. More and more are going to free wireless areas with their laptops or using other computers to search for jobs, to send or receive email and to use as a tool of their own work.

There are many reasons homeless people are homeless and we have discussed them at great length over the years. Take the 29 year old guy who lost his job in February and now calls a shelter home. He searches for jobs on line and also is a computer programmer who is writing a new program in hopes one day he can sell his work and in the process maybe find a new job helping lead to an income and permanent housing.

Nationally, shelter employees are saying that more and more people who enter shelters are also have laptops. With many places offering free Internet it is very possible for them to do what they need to do on line free without the monthly bill of Internet access. Libraries, fast food restaurants, and bookstores are just a few places offering free wifi.

Some trends in thinking suggest that in five years a UN convention will announce that network access will become everyones human right. The idea is that human rights do not only include food, shelter, and the rights for freedom of speech but it also includes the Internet. People in the future will not understand why it was not ones rights before such time. This is an interesting thought and one I will elaborate on soon. But just think about it... Is access to the Internet actually a right? Has it surpassed luxury and moved to necessity?

Some homeless people have expressed their feelings that you do not need a radio or TV but you do need to have access to the Internet. With the state of the economy at the moment more and more people who are homeless are not the people you may think they are. They are educated but down on their luck with the state of things and trying desperately to fight for the life as they once knew.

The power of the Internet is incredible and making the entire world seem so very small. Anything that can help improve ones life is very important indeed. I know the Internet is a huge part of my daily routine so why would anyone think it would not be the same way for people living on the streets.

Please feel free to comment on this and I will take those ideas into account as I continue thinking through this issue.