Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Mythology of Hunger

Mythology is an important part of the human condition.

Every culture has specific stories that have been passed on from one generation to the next until those stories become embedded in he very fabric of that society. Mythology impacts philosophy as religion as much as it colors the way we look at others who do not share the same perspectives we do. The interesting thing about some myths is that they are largely believed and accepted simply because they are repeated often enough to pass as verifiable.

Other myths are dispelled with a little research, and it is some of these that I want to present. I'll skip Sasquatch, the Flathead Lake Monster, and the PopRocks/Soda phenomenon so I can stay focused on something related to a topic that affects us all, but especially those living in poverty, those who are homeless, or anyone on the verge of homelessness. I would like to address the myth of Hunger in America.

Hunger in America Myth 1 - Many people in the U.S. think hunger happens in other countries but not in their country.They think droughts or crop failures are some of the reasons why people go hungry in other countries. In fact, hunger additionally strikes a lot closer to home. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 15 percent of U.S. households now are considered "food insecure," a nearly 30% increase from 2006. This indicates that, in any month, these households may be out of funds, out of food, and thereby, will miss meals or seek aid to feed themselves and their children. Even for people or children who eat 3 times a day could end up being malnourished. This is because Americans often eat cheaper costing foods such as sugary foods or other lower nutritional foods. Believe it or not, obesity is often related to hunger. Because of poor food choices and also the deficiency of healthy food choices in many residential areas. Many people might be packing on the extra pounds, but those extra pounds are often life-threatening. More than 30% of adults in America are considered obese. More and more children are becoming obese too. Heart disease and diabetes are now the leading causes of death in America. People are dying because of eating the wrong kinds of foods which often means the cheaper kinds of foods.

Hunger in America Myth 2 - Stopping malnourishment is a humanitarian issue. Children who grow to be obese adults, will limit our armed forces' capability to safeguard our nation. The military just lately cautioned that greater than 9 million young adults - (ages 17 to 24) weigh too much so they would not be eligible to enlist and this shrinks the list of candidates for military service. The expenses of poor nutrition drag the United States further into debt which leaves the country more vulnerable. In other words, America simply can not afford malnourishment or hunger in America anymore.

Hunger in America Myth 3 - Children are the only ones who go hungry. In reality, the person who most likely to go hungry in America, is the single, working mother who lives below the poverty level. Since Federal programs make sure that low-income kids will get free meals at their school, their single mothers, frequently have to make difficult choices amongst food, gas, rent, health care or other things for their kids. Many American women who face these choices simple go without meals themselves, especially nutritional food. Also, a growing number of senior citizens miss meals because they have to buy medicine. Many senior will not admit to needing food assistance, a 2007 study done by Meals on Wheels established that as much as six million are going hungry nearly every week.

I will continue the last two myths later in the week... Please stay tuned!

-information courtesy of nationalcoalitiontoendhomelessness

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

People are not Talking Points

Sometimes I need a break from the constant saturation and moment-by-moment bombardment of iLife. Now, before you think I am expressing worrisome and melancholy thoughts that warrant intervention, please relax and allow me to explain. I'm not even certain the term iLife is real and I apologize if it has already been tagged and utilized by some trendy start up company in Seattle or Portland.

By using this word, I'm simply referring to the interconnectivity of social media and conventional media that seems to be inescapable. It is getting harder and harder to unplug from the multitude of voices, opinions, experts, antagonists, and anyone else who wants to espouse their thoughts on how we all need to live our lives. And honestly, I appreciate the right we have, as Americans, to proclaim our beliefs. But, if I'm going to continue to be honest, so many of these thoughts have seemed really mean and inhumane to me, lately.

I am not going to mention anyone by name just as I refuse to endorse any particular political view. This is a forum for the advocacy of homeless issues and besides, I'm tired of turning on the news seeing people ridicule others who think differently. I am probably being very naive and simplistic, but the past few months have given me time to pause and reflect on the basic human condition and how we view each other.

No matter where a person comes from, he or she is entitled to respect and dignity as a person. Whether they are housed or homeless or new to this country or they are from a linage dating back centuries; respect and basic decency should not be doled out on the basis that we think they should or should not be here. Have we really (de)evolved to the point that we justify the sanctity of life for certain people but not others? I am growing increasingly tired of hearing people described as statistics and demographics and not people.

It is very easy to make gross generalizations and shout insults. It is very easy to entrench ourselves in ideas that offer solutions that we do not have to deal with. It is very easy to grab the pitchforks and join the rest of the mob in a cacophony of anger because we get frustrated. These are all legitimate feelings and stem from a dissatisfaction with the lack of progress see from those who are supposed to provide answers. I get that.

But what about those who have been dehumanized in this conversation? People and families that are no longer referred to as people, but labeled as catch-phrases. At the heart of this issue remains the fact that we are talking about people. They are not statistics and talking points to further an agenda. They are men and women and boys and girls and all I am asking is that we remember that.

I am not proposing a solution. That would be too easy and would absolve me from going the extra mile. What I am proposing is that we treat people with dignity even if we take issue with the circumstances surrounding their existence. And if that seems like an unreasonable request perhaps it is time to ask why.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Kaitlyn dialed the number without any certainty of a helpful answer. She heard about Kalispell through a friend and thought she would go for broke because she had nothing to lose. After a brief conversation with staff at Samaritan House, she bought 3 coach tickets and boarded the train with her children. Colorado would become a memory and a new life awaited her in the Flathead Valley.

With the difficulties she encountered regarding the shelters in Denver, Kaitlyn was initially unsure of what to expect in Kalispell. Prior to her phone call, she spent some time researching the Flathead because she couldn't afford another arbitrary move that simply offered her a change of scenery. She needed to move towards something positive... something that would provide improvement for her and her 2 kids. So, as the train bounded closer to the station in Whitefish and her kids slept silently beside her, Kaitlyn's heart was filled with hope.

Kaitlyn now works 40 hours a week in a health care role in Kalispell and she is on the waiting list for an apartment. Homelessness was never a situation she would have imagined for her family but she is dealing with it every day. Her tiny family unit at Samaritan House serves as a launching pad for the next phase of her life. She is still shaking off the remnants of her time in Colorado but life is moving forward and she embraces the chance to contribute to the betterment of her own family as well as the community she now calls home.

The distinguishing factor in Kaitlyn's life is her ability to keep focus and never abandon her sense of motivation. Every day was another chance to look for opportunities to lift herself out of her circumstances. Just a few months ago Kaitlyn had reached the lowest point in her life but she refused to remain there. Instead of allowing her circumstances to strip her of her dignity and self respect, she responded by plodding forward, one incremental step at a time, until she reached safety and security. Through everything she endured, Kaitlyn didn't lose the willingness and motivation to work hard.

She has a new perspective on life and an appreciation for each day that presents itself. It would have been easy to succumb to despair of becoming another statistic, but she understood how important it was to fight for herself and her children. And Kalispell is a better place with her living here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kaitlyn's Story, Continued

Denver was a new start, but Kaitlyn and her kids found themselves in a worse environment than before. The cost of living was high so she found herself mired in a Catch 22 that would not allow her to keep her head above water. She couldn't afford childcare so she was unable to secure a job. And she was well-trained as a CNA, the frustration mounted. Her lack of a job meant she was unable to pay for childcare... and so the vicious cycle spiraled out of control.

There is a despondency that wrestles hope from the most optimistic of people. It says there is no feasible solution or reason to think things will ever get better. A person begins second-guessing every decision they made while their present situation taunts them. Numbness saturates the soul and there is a tendency to sink into a catatonic state that renders one useless. Nothing was working out and Kaitlyn needed to take action quickly or they would be living on the street.

The homeless shelters in Denver were unable to offer her the chance she needed to catch her breath and collect her thoughts so she could move forward. There were policies in place that required people to have Colorado identification, and no out of state IDs were accepted. This process could take weeks and Kaitlyn needed a place to live immediately. The vicious cycle was now morphing into a new entity and combating her at every stage. She began racking her brain for a solution.

It's interesting how our memory works and how we make comparisons no matter how hard we try not to. Everywhere she went, Kaitlyn was haunted by the past and how her present began to deteriorate with each new environment. What started with a simple move to a new place had devolved into a scenario she never imagined. No one ever sets out to be homeless; it's not a goal or aspiration and once it becomes a reality it is often too late to combat it. All a person can do is remember how life used to be.

Denver was offering no solutions and she Kaitlyn was now faced with limited prospects. Unable to secure temporary housing at a shelter for her and her two kids, she didn't have the luxury of choice. Something had to be done or she would begin descending down a slope many people never recover from. Every time she searched her children's eyes she felt the pangs of responsibility she was charged with to give them the best life possible. And since this was not going to occur in Colorado, she understood it was time for a move. Again.

(To be continued)

Monday, August 17, 2015


The train cut through the silent night while most of America slept.

As it snaked through canyons and valleys and across plains and prairies, the mountains that dotted the horizon hours ago now loomed larger than anything *Kaitlyn had ever imagined. With each state that passed beneath the rails of the train, she was one step closer to her final destination. Her kids slept next to her while the moonlight framed her thoughts into a tale only written about others. But this was real; this was happening to her and her children and every bump of the track was a reminder that this was a book she couldn't shut and stop reading.

Indiana felt like an entire lifetime ago and it might as well have been. She was not the same woman who left the flat fields of the Hoosier state for Colorado Springs. She replayed life in Colorado even though it did no good. She tried to make a living as best she could but after seven months, it was time to leave and returning to Indiana was not an option. Her six year-old son stirred in his sleep and she snapped back to her present situation. Daydreaming would not accomplish anything and she needed a concrete reality. Montana had to offer solutions because her options were waning. She didn't notice her eight year-old daughter watching her from out the corner of her eye.

Colorado should have been it, the end of her journey. At the invitation of a good friend, she had moved there to create a viable and thriving life for herself and her two children. For the first three months, everything went well and Kaitlyn was enjoying the change in scenery new surroundings afforded her. Indiana faded away and came to her the way dreams appear to people who remember their past in pieces. Her kids were adjusting and she had no reason to suspect anything sinister was about to happen.

As time progressed, Kaitlyn noticed slight changes in her friend's behavior. It was not a sudden occurrence, or one single particular event, but her living situation slowly changed. Little by little, her friend began assuming a more controlling role. Kaitlyn and her children felt trapped because they knew no one else in Colorado Springs. Their daily lives began to deteriorate as they were held under the thumb of their host. A resounding drive to escape began burning inside her but Kaitlyn understood that would entail a clean break... starting over. Could she do that? Was it possible to break free from what was evolving into an abusive relationship?

A week later she took her kids and left for Denver.

(To be continued)

*Not her real name

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Education For All

For some kids, education is an incredible tool for creating a bright future and establishing a foundation to succeed in life. For others, it is an opportunity to escape homelessness and break the cycles of poverty that has held them captive. Homeless youth, especially high school students, face obstacles not beholden to kids coming from different backgrounds; kids that have permanent housing.

Homeless children generally fall into two categories: those living in families (whether their own or someone else’s) and those completely on their own. Twenty-seven percent live with relatives, friends, or other families without being legally accounted for on any lease; nearly 75 percent of homeless children live that way, according the National Center on Family Homelessness. The federal definition of a homeless student includes those in families living “doubled up”—for example, with a relative or friend’s family—as well as those living in hotels, parks, bus and rail stations, abandoned buildings, campgrounds, and cars, not mention emergency and transitional shelters

Some teens are homeless with their families. But others are on their own, simply trying to get through life without anyone looking out for their well-being, says Barbara Duffield, director of policy and programs at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

"They are typically homeless because of a very bad situation at home, abuse or neglect," she says of unaccompanied homeless teens. On the flip side, teens who are homeless with their families may be in a parental role, taking care of younger siblings.

Of the nearly 1.26 million public school students who were homeless during the 2012-2013 school year, about 317,000 were in high school, according to data released last week from the National Center for Homeless Education.

Public schools are required under federal law to ensure homeless students have access to a free public education. Homeless youth are allowed to stay in their school, regardless of where they end up, and schools must provide students transportation to that school.

Housing is among the biggest challenges for the teens she works with, she says, and foster care has not usually been an option for older teens.

Young people who experience homelessness were 87 percent more likely to stop going to school, according to the 2014 Don’t Call Them Dropouts report ​from the America’s Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tufts University.

One reason it’s so difficult for homeless students to reach graduation is the enormous amount of stress in their lives. An overwhelming number of students there have been exposed to violence of some sort, along with poverty, substance abuse and immigration issues. They’re often in survival mode and sometimes have problems thinking clearly, reasoning and problem solving. The influences of trauma can mimic learning disabilities.

There are a host of stressors associated with homelessness, including substance abuse, poverty, poor nutrition, lack of healthcare, and unsafe and overcrowded living. Many studies have shown the impact this kind of prolonged stress can have on kids. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows stress has detrimental effects on developing neural networks in the brain, especially areas that control memory and verbal ability and mediate anxiety, depression, and anger. For all of these reasons, it can be difficult for many homeless students to learn and retain information.

...Just a few things to think about before school begins in a few weeks.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Tragedy of Isolation

*Quinn sat across from me and the long pauses between my questions and her answers spoke volumes. Sometimes silence reveals the heart of a conversation without the distraction of words and I could see her searching for ways to convey her story while her two year-old daughter bounced around the room, not paying attention to either of us. Being a homeless single mother presents logistical and practical challenges of all shapes and sizes.

These would be easy to focus on: Balancing a budget, looking for work, attempting to find affordable childcare; all obstacles that can cripple a person trying to take care of herself and her child. Quinn's daily schedule revolves around the youngster who is moving in a thousand different directions at once. Single motherhood is challenging enough without living in a shelter, sharing a small space. But there is a different weight resting on the young mother. A heaviness permeates the room and if she closes her eyes, Quinn is moved by the echoes of all the noises she doesn't hear.

She left Billings a few weeks ago to help take care of her mother; a lot of responsibility for a 25 year-old trying to deal with her own issues. Once she arrived in Kalispell, circumstances changed and her mom's house was too crowded due to an influx of other family members who also were living there, including Quinn's 2 sons. With no place else to stay, she and her daughter ended up in a family unit at Samaritan House.

Quinn will be the first to tell you that she has grown up a lot over the past few years. She was not always in a place where she could take care of her children so her mother helped her out. But now that she is in the process of turning things around, she moved to Kalispell to reconnect with her kids while, at the same time, helping her mother out. And it is during this part of our conversation that the effects of living apart from her sons comes to life.

There is a noticeable difference between separation and isolation. The former indicates a distance between at least two things. Quinn was separated from her sons in a geographical sense, as hundreds of miles were between her and them. And while separation can be sad and lonely, it pales in comparison to isolation. Isolation is a state of existence that acknowledges there is a whole world out there in which a person cannot be involved with. Isolation is an admittance that a person is all alone and unable to connect with anything worthwhile or life-giving. It is heart-breaking and gut-wrenching and Quinn felt it every elapsing day she was away from her sons.

Imagine knowing there was something out there that you loved but you were not in a condition where you could embrace it. What would it feel like to realize part of you was exciting somewhere else and there was little you could do about it? Quinn was not simply separated from her sons. She was isolated.

But now things are different and she is ebbing back into their lives because she is improving her condition. It would have been easy to give up and wallow in despair; just fade into a series of statistics. But she is fighting for her family and what it means to take responsibility for their well being. It is a slow process and she is avoiding mistakes she might have made in the past, as she embraces a future that is conquering isolation.

*Not her real name

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Next week I will continue writing about some of our residents. Hopefully, these stories convey a little more regarding the issues our residents face. Things become personal when a name and face can be connected to a series of sentences typed on a screen. An important, but often underrepresented, group within the homeless community is children. But before I continue these stories, I want to paint a broad picture of what challenges face kids in poverty.

Sadly, poverty is a hurdle to future financial success, well before a youngster is born. Considering that poor women of all ages are more inclined to not have medical insurance, they frequently delay seeking good prenatal care. Additionally, they could have hypertension, diabetes, or some other health conditions that place their baby in danger of a premature birth. This frequently results in developmental delays that can cause a youngster to fall behind other children of the same age.

Considering the issues that are related to a child's poor prenatal care, youngsters that live in lower income households have increased health issues compared to child who don't. For instance, complications with asthma are more prevalent with children who reside in old houses that have poor ventilation. Obesity is another health problem more prevalent amoungst poor youngsters. This is because a diet that includes fresh produce and lean protein is usually not affordable for low income families despite having the help of food stamps.

After children reach elementary school, often these youngsters end up receiving an inferior education since they move frequently or attend a school that is under-funded. It is among the most lasting negative effects of poverty. Children who don't learn to read, as well as write proficiently in elementary school are more likely to have difficulty while attending high school. Getting bad high school grades reduces the prospects for getting accepted for a college education. Because career advancement is frequently associated with educational achievement, lacking a college degree can often cause a poor child to remain poor.

The federal government offers a number of supportive programs to aid in lessening the long term negative effects of poverty for children. The (WIC) - Women, Infant and Children Nutrition Program provides nourishing food for women who are pregnant and also for youngsters below the age of five. Head Start provides free preschool to youngsters from poor families. This programs lays the fundamental groundwork for long term academic success. All states in the U.S. have a program that provides free or inexpensive medical health insurance to youngsters living in poverty.

Numerous non-profit local community agencies have begun programs to address the long-term effects of poverty on families. The Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America gives favorable adult role models for children who are at risk. The Salvation Army has summer camp activities for low income youngsters. They have programs to teach sports, music, outdoor wilderness skills and arts and crafts. During the holiday season, many faith-based organizations will sponsor needy families to help them enjoy a festive celebration.

Even though those programs do aid in alleviating the strain of poverty to some degree, the fight against poverty is certainly not over. Until there are sufficient jobs that offer a real living wage and more help for moms and dads being affected by addiction or mental health issues, poor youngsters will still be at a disadvantage.

- information courtesy of

Next week... Another tale from our residents.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sam and Tiffany

It is dark outside and most of the city is asleep. The streets are quiet at 4am and there is an unassuming tranquility that blankets the community before the sunlight escorts everyone to where they need to be to begin the day. His alarm reminds Sam that it is a new day and he has another opportunity to earn a living building trusses. It only took him a couple weeks to find a good job in Kalispell, and his early morning entry into the workforce is necessary because he has no vehicle.

Samaritan House is about six miles from his place of employment and he rides his bike to and from every day, spending about an hour each way. If a person has never been in a situation like this, it is difficult to understand the demands put on a person to find and secure a job. Rain or shine, Sam peddles to work because he is willing to do what is needed to provide for his wife and son.

A few hours after he departs for work, Tiffany embarks upon a trip to the grocery store. Imagine transporting groceries without a car. Sam's steady employment allows them an opportunity to purchase what they need and still put a little money aside. Tiffany does the best she can being selective when she shops. With limited capabilities to haul what she buys, a stroller is the best option. She carefully loads what she can to transport the food home, even if this means multiple trips at times.

Sam and Tiffany left Oregon with the best of intentions; Life rarely takes our intentions into account, however. They cope every day with each obstacle that would seek to victimize them if they allowed themselves to waiver. Sam's reentry into Kalispell was nothing like he imagined or wanted, but he and his wife refuse to give up. Every day there are people like this couple who find themselves on the brink of homelessness simply because their situation takes a turn and they don't know how to respond.

Viewing homelessness from an outside perspective provides only a narrow glimpse of a vast world. There are obvious issues affecting the homeless that any observer can see or allude to, but these do not paint a holistic picture of what a transient life entails. And while a lack of permanent housing, non-existent medical care, and scarcity of finances are glaring problems, these are the tip of an iceberg that plummets well below the view and understanding of people who have not dealt with homelessness.

Homelessness is not the same as being lazy or criminal or expectant of others to do everything for you. Sam and Tiffany are living testimonies that the American dream takes several different paths for some people. It is an attitude and refusal to be victimized that makes this country great. Just ask this couple.