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?