Monday, November 30, 2015

The Gospel According to St. Mark (Twain)

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

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

1. Approve of yourself.

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

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

2. Your limitations may just be in your mind.

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

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

3. Lighten up and have some fun.

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Remember to be Thankful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Stress, Be Gone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bah, Humbug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Open Letter to the Next President

Amanda has it tough and she knows it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thank You, Veterans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

An Important Notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More Than a Letter

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

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

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

Dear Albert:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Avoiding the Housing Turnstyle

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

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

But what happens after people exit homelessness to housing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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