Thursday, October 6, 2016

Update from Samaritan House

Warmest Greetings from Samaritan House. 
I am writing to you now because at some point in the past you have graciously supported Samaritan House or you have shown an interest in Samaritan House and the mission of helping homeless people in the Flathead Valley.  The Samaritan House has very seldom sent such a letter as this but recently a very unexpected event has obligated us to send out a very special request.  Please let me explain. 
Samaritan House was recently among one of the many HUD funded programs across the country serving homelessness whose grant funding was not renewed for 2016.  Many of these HUD funded programs that lost this type of funding are now facing the extremely difficult task of finding alternative funding, downsizing or even closing. 
I am pleased to tell you that Samaritan House is not in the category of downsizing or closing and is in no way threatened in our pursuit of ending homelessness in the Flathead Valley.  That being said, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this grant funding was an annual source of $56,624. This funding was used to provide housing for people in need. Additionally, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program that is administered locally by United Way is not going to be renewed.  This funding was an annual source of $5,400 - $7,000 and was used to provide food for the kitchen/cafeteria. The loss of this money is a heavy hit to our budget. 
There are other funding sources available to fill the gap left by the loss of this grant and they are being pursued vigorously.  Please note however that even if they do get funded they will not be available until mid-2017 and thus the purpose of this letter.  Quite simply we are humbly asking your assistance in allowing us to continue the work ahead of us until this new funding is in place. 
In terms of investment, Samaritan House can be viewed as a good choice.  Samaritan House serves approximately 1,350 local homeless people every year, sheltering around 78 people every night.  Programs at Samaritan House have excellent outcomes.  86% of the people served at Samaritan House are no longer homeless when they move on from the shelter compared to 72% as a notional standard for other homeless programs. 
The Montana winter is fast approaching and the number of people we serve will quickly escalate because of this.  If you would like to donate toward the approaching winter season and provide assistance to help Samaritan House get through the grant funding gap please send your donation to:
Samaritan House
124 9th Ave West
Kalispell, MT 59901
Donations can also be made online at our website:
Or at our blog:
We acknowledge that many of you have already donated in 2016 and for that we are very appreciative. 
Thank you so much for your willingness to touch the lives of people we serve.  We could not do this work without your help. 
Chris Krager, Executive Director
Samaritan House 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Approaching Season

The weather is turning. This morning I actually had to debate whether or not to wear a hoodie when I went to the grocery store. The leaves will be changing soon and the days will get shorter and if you are homeless, maybe you are considering if you are going to migrate somewhere warmer or stick around the Flathead. Some people will continue in homelessness while others will find themselves facing it for the first time for a myriad of reasons.

At Samaritan House, we want to do our best to provide some guidelines that will hopefully be helpful whether or not you are chronically or newly homeless or whether you are staying in Kalispell or leaving for warmer locations.

If circumstances have rendered you homeless, you will find yourself having to stand in long lines, answer uncomfortable questions, and possibly even face the disapproving glares of passers-by as you begin sorting through various social services.

Do not be disheartened or embarrassed by these realities, and learn to overcome your pride whenever it stands in the way of improving your situation. After all, many people that opine about homelessness have never experienced it, and therefore have no idea what it is really like to be homeless. Don’t be embarrassed about your situation and refuse to seek out and accept help from others.

Sometimes, help doesn’t come as quickly as would ideally be the case, and people out on the streets with nowhere to go should prepare themselves for whatever situation may present itself, especially poor meteorological conditions. There is nothing worse than being homeless during the winter months, and having a notion of how to protect yourself from the elements will be key to your survival. Consider the following steps:

·         Dress with as many layers as possible. Put the thinnest layers, like an undershirt, closest to your skin, and keep the thickest layers, like a winter coat, on the very outside.

·         This applies to pants and socks as well. Tuck in as many of the layers as possible into your pants, except for your outer coat.

·         Cover your head with a thick hat; somewhere around 80% of the body’s heat is lost through the top of the head, so cover it!

·         Stay dry at all costs, as getting wet—especially with so many layers—can leach the warmth right out of your body.

·         Seek shelter, and remember that Samaritan House is only a phone call or visit away.

Beyond all these measures, it’s important never to lose heart: many people get stuck in the condition of homeless because they enter a vicious cycle of depression and substance abuse. Keep yourself proactive, and allow other people to help you—though do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Back to School Needs!

Returning to school is an exhilarating time for children. Many get to see old friends and compare summer vacation stories while others participate in fall sports and activities. And as much as I hate to admit it, by the time summer ended I was usually so tired of my parents (I later learned the sentiment was more than mutual), I was happy and ready to head back to the classroom.  But for the estimated 1.3 million homeless students in America, this time of year can be a daunting experience; something most of us know nothing about and while we might feel sympathetic, we aren’t empathetic.  

Samaritan House has been helping homeless children for 26 years, and our work has given us insight into their unique challenges and ways to help them prepare for school. For children living in emergency shelter, temporary housing, or on the streets, the uncertainty of living arrangements can cause deep anxiety and stress. Worries about hunger, clothing and shame dominate the lives of young children and youth whose families are in transition. Frequent isolation can also lead to emotional and behavioral issues—obstacles that would be crushing for adults. But we expect our homeless students to function in school alongside their peers.

Nationwide, we are facing a serious and legitimate problem as the number of homeless students in public schools has doubled since before the recession of 2008. Many families continue to struggle financially and school costs continue to rise: The cost of sending a child back to school is up to $673 for the average family, says the National Retail Federation, an increase of 54.8 percent over the last 10 years. So, you can double or triple that total if you have more than one kid in school. 

One way to help alleviate this cost for homeless families is to donate school supplies. If you would like to help, here is a list of some supplies that would be very helpful. You can drop any items off at our office… thanks so much!!

Backpacks                               Glue sticks                  Construction paper                Calculators
Number 2 pencils                   Colored pencils          Sharpies                                  Folders           
Spiral notebooks                    Scissors                        Markers                                  Pens
3 and 5 ring binders               Loose- leaf paper        Crayons                                  Graph paper
Erasers                                     Highlighters              

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gandhi's 7 Deadly Sins (4-7)

4. Commerce Without Morality
Without morality in commerce we are saying it is fine to cheat, lie, steal, and sell products that are not as advertised. In our country we have laws against what is called ‘bait and switch’, which basically means you are bringing someone to a store on false pretenses in order to sell them a product other than advertised. Luring people in under false pretences is unethical and therefore lacking in morality. There are many other important dimensions of morality in commerce.  

There are no limits to the ways in which merchants of one kind or another can find to take advantage of others. I would ask you however, to consider that the lack of morality in commerce can run both ways. If there were no market for human trafficking, no market for weapons, there would be no reason for anyone to trade in those commodities. In order to avoid commerce without morality we must make sure that each individual's circumstances are such that they need not stoop to levels that allow them to degrade themselves and others by seeking to find their financial well-being in immoral commerce.

5. Science Without Humanity
Science without humanity is at the root of a million different issues.  Individuals both fear and lack trust in one another's motives. Without trust in one another's humanity and motivation, it is natural to question the possibility of others using science for purposes that are less than humane. Humanity in science to me means we are using science for the betterment of the human and world condition. For too many years we have used science to advance human desires without being concerned about the human consequences. This is challenging because the time it takes to know and understand the repercussions of our actions many not even be visible within the span of a single human generation. Science with humanity is science that seeks to better human existence.

6. Worship Without Sacrifice
Sacrifice is a word we are hearing a lot lately. For me, worship without sacrifice means not being challenged, not having to put anything aside in order to be in community. This conveys putting my desires aside for the greater good of those around me accepting a calling to serve rather than to be served. That which is greater than ourselves is essential to the health of worship. We must put aside ourselves, not at the expense of our individual well being but rather because we can become part of something much greater than any one begin alone can be when we join all of our hopes and dreams, visions and skills together.

7. Politics Without Principle
We are smack-dab in the middle of a chaotic election season, and while I have my doubts about the use of principles; I know that without principles our political world is turned upside down and inside out. When we have politics without principle we have deceit and lies, we have individuals who seek to lift themselves up by using and abusing others.

 The key to politics with principles is keeping our eyes on the objectives and not straying from that true course. I believe politics are not just about what happens on the national scene, but it is also about how we deal with one another. Politics are in the office, in the neighborhood and in the places we work and call our is important that we know what principles we hold dear and live them in all the political circumstances of our lives.

So, there you have it, Gandhi’s ideas regarding a few things that impact us in all areas of our lives. I hope you were able to glean some helpful insight from this because I am constantly challenged by these ideas.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Gandhi's 7 Deadly Sins (1-3)

Gandhi was an incredible man who worked tirelessly to advocate for peace and non-violent resistance. He devised a list of 7 deadly social sins that contribute to not only the downfall of society, but also to the death of humanity. I want to spend some time dissecting these ideas because I think they are incredible and make sense in a time when hope seems like a disintegrating idea. Here is a brief synopsis of his ideas that can give us all pause to stop and think about how we live our lives.  Here are Gandhi’s 7 deadly sins:

1. Wealth Without Work
This refers to getting something for nothing and it’s one of my personal pet peeves. There are many people who have attained wealth without work, by inheritance or corrupt practices who use their wealth only for personal gain and even personal excess. This relates to a dangerous sense of entitlement because the person did not have to strive for or attain any level of sacrifice in order to obtain the wealth. Wealth without work often leads to an inability to comprehend the true meaning and value of one's possessions, or the labors of others. We have created a disposable society that has difficulty in really understanding that material goods have value. Possessions are disposable because there is no understanding of the work necessary to attain the riches that are needed to acquire those items.

2. Pleasure Without Conscience
This addresses many of the same concerns connected to wealth without work. When we expect to have luxury as a matter of course, as a matter of entitlement, with no effort expended to receive or earn what we have, we tend to ignore the cost of our pleasure to the providers of basic services. Many people spend their entire careers laboring hard for minimum wages to indulge the pleasures of the wealthy who barely notice their existence. Often this means we do not give proper respect or value to those people’s lives and the work they do in the world.

Pleasure without conscience is much of what has allowed drug lords, and drug dealers to do their work at the expense of others. It is also what allows the drug abuser to use without awareness of the sacrifice and chaos that it is necessary for their pleasure. As we start looking at what the costs of our advances as a society have been at the expense of our planet we see the real ramifications of our pleasures without conscience.

3. Knowledge without Character
Knowledge without character means that you can use your knowledge for harm and manipulation. It is character that allows us the strength to do what is right and to hold ourselves and others accountable. Character also calls us to responsibility when we are wrong or to admit when knowledge has changed, and therefore our basis for decision making must change. It is a willingness to humble ourselves enough to admit when we are wrong. True character is a complicated thing that requires us to remain open to changes in and around us that will inform and continue the expansion of our knowledge base. Knowledge is not static and therefore true character must accept change if not welcome it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An Unexamined Life is not Worth Living

Next week I am going to propose a few ideas on how we can make tangible changes in our own lives that can have positive consequences for the rest of society. But, instead of jumping right into things, here are some questions we can ask ourselves in context with how we live and what we believe.

I would love to have some feedback so if any of you would like to leave comments regarding any of these questions, I will be happy to publish your answers so we can all see that we are in this together. So, here they are… 7 deadly questions as a prelude to next week’s topic.

1. Do we expect and require others in the community to contribute to social problems for the sake of helping or because they want something out of it?

2. Do we care about the morality involved with the different types of solutions offered?

3. Are morality and ethics valued above money and social advancement?

4. Do we believe that “the ends don’t always justify the means,” no matter how lofty the intended purpose might be?

5. Do we clearly see the difference between leadership based on principles verses leadership based on pandering to the desires of the populace?

6. Is humanity’s value more than merely its contributions to technical or educational advancements?

7. Do we place doctrines and dogmas above care and compassion for others?
Think about these because we will revisit them once we get through next week's ideas!


Monday, August 15, 2016

Sympathy or Empathy... Which do we Need?

Over the next two weeks I am going to focus on some huge ideas that might not seem directly related to homelessness (be patient… they are). But I hope you will see the method to my madness by the time this little experiment is over. Maybe I’m burnt out on politicians offering bluster without substance. Perhaps I am disappointed there are so many people who like to observe problems without ever really addressing them. Or it could be that sometimes I lose my own way because even though I never forget what I’m fighting for, I allow myself to get frustrated and want to give up.

So, it appears I am writing to myself more than anyone else. Let’s start here: with our own understanding of what it means to even perceive the problems facing others and how we respond. I want to address two ideas we are all familiar with but might get confused, sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy and empathy both describe how we feel towards a specific situation but they have different implications. With sympathy you feel for the person; you’re sorry for them or pity them, but you don’t specifically understand what they’re feeling. Sometimes you’re left with little choice but to feel sympathetic because we really can’t understand the plight or predicament of someone else. It takes imagination, work, or possibly a similar experience to get to empathy.

Empathy is best described as feeling with the person. Notice the difference between ‘for’ and ‘with’. To an extent you are placing yourself in that person’s place, have a good sense of what they feel, and understand their feelings as much as you can. It may be impossible to be fully empathetic because each individual's reactions, thoughts and feelings to tragedy are going to be unique. But the idea of empathy implies a much more active process. Instead of feeling sorry for, you’re sorry with and have clothed yourself in the mantle of someone else’s emotional reactions.

It is easy to feel sympathetic to someone else’s difficulties. We can definitely pity others who have lost a loved one, undergone significant trauma, or faced terribly difficult times. Empathy suggests you’re in it with them, you can imagine what it is to be in their shoes, and you are together with them in emotional turmoil and loss. The need for true empathy gives rise to many groups of people who are encountering huge losses.

Frequently, what a person in grief really needs to hear is “I’ve done that too," "I totally get what you’re saying," or "I had the exact same thoughts," from someone else.  These are all expressions of empathy. What they tend not to want to hear is “I’m so sorry for you,” an expression of sympathy that makes them feel alone and isolated in their grief. I think we can make the move from sympathy to empathy and when we do, we embrace the beginning stages of affecting true change.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Benefits of Housing First

For people who have experienced chronic homelessness, long-term services and support may be needed. The vast majority of homeless individuals and families fall into homelessness after a housing or personal crisis. For these households, the Housing First approach provides them with short-term assistance to find permanent housing quickly and without conditions. In turn, such households often require only brief, if any, support or assistance to achieve housing stability and individual well-being.

Studies from across the country found that when we combine affordable housing with services, people stayed housed, even when they had a long history of homelessness. Housing First tenants are more likely to experience decreased symptoms of mental illness, reduce dependence on alcohol and other drugs, work or go to school, increase their income from work, permanently leave their abusers, and successfully manage their budgets. This results in a significant cost savings for communities. A Denver study found that a Housing First approach saved the community over $30,000 per person.
Other states have shown this model can successfully move from the theoretical to the tangible. A Colorado study found that the average homeless person cost the state forty-three thousand dollars a year, while housing that person would cost just seventeen thousand dollars.

The old model assumed that before you could put people into permanent homes you had to deal with their underlying issues—get them to stop drinking, take their medication, and so on. Otherwise, it was thought, they’d end up back on the streets. But it’s ridiculously hard to get people to make such changes while they’re living in a shelter or on the street. If you move people into permanent supportive housing first, and then give them help, it seems to work better. It’s intuitive, in a way. People do better when they have stability. Utah’s first pilot program placed seventeen people in homes scattered around Salt Lake City, and after twenty-two months not one of them was back on the streets. In the years since, the number of Utah’s chronically homeless has fallen by seventy-four per cent.
Housing First isn’t just cost-effective. It’s more effective, period.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What is Housing First?

Sometimes logic and reason can be the greatest indicators of what is right and wrong. But if an idea makes sense or seems simple, it can be discarded because it must not be worth trying. We tend to over-think things if the answer seems self-evident and we construct solutions that complicate or muddy the problem. In social circles this internal dialogue is constantly being weighed against external applications.

Often there are numerous ways to address an issue but which is the ‘right’ way? Or, if there is no concrete right way, which method is most beneficial to everyone involved?  The end goal for addressing homelessness is to provide adequate housing for people, but there several theories about getting from Point A to Point B. This is apparent in the conversation about homelessness and the philosophy and practice of ‘Housing First.’  

The idea behind Housing First centers on the belief that helping the homeless access and sustain permanent, affordable housing can result in keeping that person or family off the street for good. It understands that the homeless don’t need a series of hoops to jump through: they need a home. Once they have permanent housing, the services that follow are much more effective.
It’s the proverbial which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

What makes a Housing First approach different from other strategies is that there is an immediate focus on helping people quickly find permanent housing. It intentionally seeks out what most people experiencing homelessness want and need. The idea is that Housing First provides people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible – and then supply voluntary supportive services as needed.
By providing housing assistance, case management and supportive services responsive to individual or family needs after an individual or family is housed, communities can significantly reduce the time people experience homelessness and prevent further episodes of homelessness. Social services to enhance individual and family well-being can be more effective when people are in their own home. Housing First is an approach that centers on providing homeless people with housing quickly and then providing services as needed.

Housing First programs share critical elements:

- Help the homeless access and sustain permanent rental housing as quickly as possible.

- A variety of services to promote housing stability and individual well.

- Such services are time-limited or long-term depending upon individual need

- Participants must comply with a standard lease agreement and are provided with the services and supports that are necessary to help them do so successfully.
In a few days I will share some of the other benefits to this model, but for now I wanted to explain a little about what it was.
Info courtesy of National Coalition for the Homeless 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Declining Generation

Recently, the news reported cases of the Zika virus have manifested in Florida. Right now the instances are relatively few but people are still concerned, and rightfully so. I have a sister who lives in Florida so after calling her and assessing the situation and her well-being, I was relieved that she and her husband are fine. After the conversation I began wondering what the effect of this might entail for the homeless.

One of the difficulties of living on the streets or in public places without structural protection, is the continued risk of susceptibility to certain kinds of diseases that people with homes aren’t as prone to encounter. It is not a stretch to conclude that a life of homelessness puts a person in severe risk of not dying before those who are not homeless. Hundreds of thousands of homeless people could die over the next decade as the homeless population in the United States grows older but continues to lack access to proper housing, food, or medical care. The homeless demographic problem is stark.

Modern homelessness in American society is typically traced back to the early for a couple reasons, including double-dip recessions, the crack epidemic, and the closing of psychiatric institutions. This resulted in a boom in the number of people without shelter. We are currently seeing the results of a problem that started 30 years ago and continues to this day.

That’s because it’s incredibly difficult to pull out of the cycle of homelessness. It is challenging to find a job while living in a shelter, and it’s daunting to get out of the shelter without having a job.  The homeless deal with an existential Catch 22 every day. Compound this with a lack of affordable housing and recurring health or addiction problems and apparent why so many people who became homeless in the 1980s are still without shelter today.

A University of Pennsylvania study showed that the homeless population in the United States keeps getting older and older. In 1990, the typical age of a single homeless adult was 34. Just 20 years later, the median age was 53. In other words, fewer individuals in later generations have found themselves on the streets, but older generations are also finding it more difficult to get off them.

This problem is becoming increasingly dire because the average life expectancy for a homeless person is 64, compared to 79 years for the average American. In a decade, the United States is facing a massive surge in the number of homeless people who could very realistically die. Right now, there are about 400,000 homeless people in the United States who were born before 1964. Within 15 years it is a sobering thought that none of them might be here.

That is, unless we undertake a genuine effort to get homeless residents into housing, and ‘housing first’ is a great alternative to dying. I’ve written about this in the past and I will post more about it next week to explain this philosophy. From an ethical perspective, it’s humane to provide housing and care for our homeless population, particularly those who are aging, and economically it is less expensive. With more than 600,000 homeless people in the United States who aren’t getting any younger, the problem is as great as it is urgent.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Urbanization and the Homeless

I enjoy road trips. There is something refreshing and exhilarating about hitting the open road with no particular destination in mind. Over the years I have made countless jaunts through the Pacific Northwest and each time I roll through Post Falls, Idaho, I notice how much that city seems to be stretching towards Spokane. I can even recall a time when Spokane proper and Spokane Valley seemed continents apart and not just different stretches of Interstate 90.


Image result for urban homelessnessThe world is urbanizing at a rapid rate with alarming results. Because we live in a more rural setting, we don’t often notice the concrete evolution unfolding in other parts of the country.  But what are some of the consequences of urbanization? Why does it matter and should I just cope with the fact that often it will take me longer than 15 seconds to turn left onto Highway 93 sans the saving grace of a traffic light? Now is where you can sit back and wish for the “good ‘ol days…”

City landscapes are potent signs of visible gross inequality in America. Monstrous skyscrapers enveloping makeshift shacks; men and women sleeping on the pavement silhouetted against the neon signs of all varieties. Our urban centers have become polarized: two cities existing side by side but separated by status and rights.

Urbanization is a classic tale of the haves and have-nots, where some profit immensely while others struggle to survive. One of the most tragic manifestations of this sort of inequality is persistent and growing homelessness – people left without the protection of a physical space or the security that their inherent human rights should offer. We’ve addressed this topic before, that housing should be a right and not a privilege.

Homelessness presents itself in different ways in different contexts. The most common and visible are those who are forced to live in the open. Over the years, we see these people in increasing numbers in the Flathead. They sleep, eat and stay in public spaces, often subject to daily public scrutiny, harsh weather, condemnation and potential violence. Others are invisible, especially where homelessness manifests in very poorer housing conditions without basic services and security of tenure. Homeless people face stigmatization, criminalization and discrimination every day.

Inequality is the most consistently identified cause of homelessness, and yet homelessness is the least discussed representation of inequality. Think about that for a minute. When the last time homelessness was was was addressed as a key talking point at a national political convention?

Perhaps this is because homelessness is too often attributed to individual circumstances and moral failures instead being seen as the result of systematic failures or just simple misfortune that is so severe a family or person cannot recover and loses nearly everything they own.

I also surmise that things would be different if the homeless voted in large blocks. But since they don’t, their plight is not addressed with as much vigor or tenacity as, say, a lobbyist or an industry that makes substantial donations. The response should be clear: states must commit to leading the way in regards to ending homelessness. This would line up with the global target to ensure adequate housing for all by 2030, which was recently committed to in the UN’s sustainable development goals.

A good start would be for states to begin creating national strategies based on human right, but do so through legislation and not merely activism, to claim the right to housing for those who continue to live in homelessness. Everyone benefits when the community works together. Urbanization doesn’t have to be a detrimental thing.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thinking Long-term to Reduce Poverty

I want to focus on poverty and how it affects millions of Americans. It is an enormous topic and there are numerous aspects to address, so this week we will look at practical ways to reduce it. Sometimes tackling an issue like this can be overwhelming and a person feels like quitting before they even really begin. But when we break things down into manageable ideas, it’s easier to digest things.

 I hope this is helpful because poverty is a systemic issue, meaning there are always different components leading to poverty that we sometimes never consider. So, here are some ideas that could feasibly help people who are living day to day transition towards a life where they can climb out of poverty.

1.  Preschool access for disadvantaged children.
By the start of kindergarten, poor children are already faring worse than their higher-income peers when it comes to cognitive abilities and behavioral problems. Expanding access to and the quality of preschool programs among poor children under the age of 5 could help address this.

 2. Address the “parenting divide” to promote early childhood development for disadvantaged children.
Data shows that economically advantaged parents invest more than money in their children. They also spend more productive time with their children than do economically disadvantaged parents, a trend that deepens the social and economic divide and contributes to poverty in America.

 3. Reduce unintended pregnancies for young women.
Children born to young, unmarried mothers in the United States face an elevated risk of poverty. A social marketing campaign designed to improve knowledge and attitudes about ways to prevent unintended pregnancies could make a real impact.

 4. Design effective mentoring programs for disadvantaged youth.
The need for mentoring programs is indisputable given that up to nine million children in the United States have no caring adults in their lives. Evidence shows that community-based programs, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, are most likely to be successful in improving subsequent labor market earnings among disadvantaged youth. These types of mentoring programs provide disadvantaged youth with opportunities that could propel them forward in life.

 5. Expand summer job opportunities for low-Income kids.
Summer jobs for high school students are not a new idea, but they can be a vital bridge to higher achievement by allowing young people to maintain some intellectual engagement outside of the classroom while gaining experience in the work force. The Department of Labor could take action to stimulate the creation of more summer youth employment programs for disadvantaged youth.

 6. Address the academic barriers to higher education.
Estimates suggest that more than one-third of all first-year students at higher education institutions take some form of remedial coursework in either English or mathematics, but this figure can be as high as 60 or 70 percent of students at some institutions. Students placed into remedial programs are often held back from taking college-level courses, and are effectively blocked from pursuing higher education. By improving the remediation process, we can better address individual students’ academic needs and increase the rate of college success.

 7. Expand apprenticeship opportunities for U.S. workers.
Formal apprenticeship programs to train workers have seen great success as a highly cost-effective way to train workers and increase lifetime earnings. The Departments of Labor and Commerce—along with state governments and Career Academies—can help fight poverty by expanding access to these programs among today’s workforce.

 8. Reward colleges for better preparing low-income students for high-paying jobs.
If public universities aren’t offering courses that lead to high paying work, they aren’t going to do as much to level the playing field for low-income students. By offering incentives for public universities to add courses focused on these areas, students could see their job opportunities rise considerably after graduation.

 9. Support working families by offering an updated refundable child-care credit.
The current federal child care support program—in particular, the Child and Dependent Care Credit—does not provide as much support as it could to those families at the bottom of the income distribution. Making the credit refundable and introducing a series of adjustments to better target the credit would magnify the impact for working families and increase employment for working mothers with young children.

 10. Make thoughtful minimum wage policy at the state and local levels.
Mandatory minimum wage levels have been an effective tool to combat poverty, and various state and local governments have set minimum wages over the federal level. A smart framework for adjusting minimum wages on a regional level would maximize the impact that minimum wage laws can have on poverty.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lori's Story

*Not the person represented in this story.
It was spring when *Lori first began to feel the world closing in on her. She felt like she was living in a cave inside her mind. Sleeping countless hours, she lost her job. Her heart raced. Sometimes her left leg went numb. The Mission Mountains stopped inspiring her and she drove past Flathead Lake without giving it a second glance.  Her favorite hobbies and activities no longer comforted her. Noise -- especially laughter -- made her want to fight.

It was an argument in a small town outside Kalispell that finally set her off. She pummeled her sister with her fists, grabbed a pocketbook and a change of clothes, and fled. Lori was out of options.
''I had to go,'' the girl in her early 30s, recalled. ''I was really beginning to lose it. I had lost it.''

That day in May marked the final phase of her journey into homelessness which had begun more than a decade ago. It was a slow, methodical descent that, in hindsight, she can now see.  It eventually took an official diagnosis to give her problem a name: manic-depression.
As mental health experts learn more about mood disorders, it is becoming clear that depression and manic-depression, with its wild mood swings, are significant contributors towards homelessness. Shelters have long been filled with schizophrenics, people whose hallucinations and delusions force them out of jobs and homes and relationships. But the link between depression and homelessness is only now becoming clear.

Many doctors say manic-depression (also known as bipolar disorder) responds to a variety of mood stabilizers but diagnosing it is difficult because it can appear, in its later stages, like schizophrenia. During highs, manic-depressive people can become delusional, like schizophrenics. Because schizophrenia's symptoms are easier to diagnose, emergency room doctors and shelter operators are much more likely to classify someone as schizophrenic than manic-depressive.  
During the low points for manic-depressives, extreme fatigue is common and there is little desire to do much of anything. It was nearly impossible for Lori to earn any money because she lost her job due to excessive absenteeism and poor performance. Even with the appropriate diagnosis and medication, the complexities of manic-depression are such that patients live in denial. Sometimes they stop taking their medicine when they start to feel better, leaving them open to more intense episodes.

Lori’s story is a demonstration of how manic-depressives can drift into homelessness. How an entire life can spiral out of control when a person doesn’t know what particular issue they are dealing with. But it also shows the element of hope for those who discover they suffer from mental illness and, if their problem is recognized, they can reclaim their lives. And she ruminated about how manic-depression can ruin a person's life.
''I can't believe I didn't think I had this,'' she said of manic-depression. ''It's so obvious to me now. I wake up to whatever the plan is for that day. I have no baggage from the day before. I can deal with things. That's a big plus. It is so awesome that I can deal with things that used to grip me for days.''

Lori is one of the fortunate ones because she was able to be diagnosed and receive treatment for her condition. Living with a mental illness can be tough enough but adding homelessness to the equation compounds things to an almost unbearable degree. It is easy to stereotype people when we don’t have all the information and only view them in part. Please remember each person has unique and individual circumstances.

*Not her real name

Monday, July 18, 2016

Returning Home

Image result for veteransThe challenges facing returning veterans can be overwhelming. Some reports indicate nearly 20 percent of homeless Americans are veterans. Another heartbreaking and staggering statistic reports that, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Stop what you are doing right now and think about that. Unless you have served in the military, you can never truly understand the unique challenges involved in transitioning from military service to civilian life. Many of us know someone who served in the military, either overseas or domestically, but have we considered what it’s like to reenter civilian life from their perspective?

 I have never served but am writing this to present some challenges many veterans face. During my years at Samaritan House, I’ve had the benefit of meeting and knowing several veterans. I don’t have a sure-fire solution to remedy these problems because they are complex and multilayered. And trying to address such important issues with a broad, general answer does them a gross disservice. But if you know veterans who are returning soon, maybe this can help a little. We can all do a better job of listening and trying to assist in ways that don’t stop with a ride home from the airport?

Reconnecting with family might be the most important thing that happens. While the veteran was away, families usually create new routines during the absence and both the family and the veteran will need to adjust. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can take some time to get used. Imagine leaving your family for an extended period of time and returning to find that everything looks the same on the surface but, in actuality, everything has evolved. The faces are all the same but the role, identities, and responsibilities have shifted and you now have to find your place.
Going back to work can also present new dynamics. A veteran may have never held a civilian job, especially if he or she had a career in the military and these are new skills that have to be learned and mastered. When applying for a job, the veteran will have to determine how to translate their military skills into civilian terms and create a resume for the first time. Even returning to a previous job isn’t as easy as it might seem because returning to the job may include a period of catching up, learning new skills, or adjusting to a new position. During the transition back to work, some veterans also experience worry and fear about possible job loss.

The pace of life changes greatly for our veterans when they embark upon civilian life. In the military, personnel doesn’t leave the mission until it is complete but in the private sector, an employee might have to stop and go home at 5pm, whether the "mission" is finished or not. Civilian workplaces are competitive environments, as opposed to the collaborative camaraderie of the military. Given the direct nature of communication in military settings, there may be subtle nuances in conversations and workplace lingo that are unfamiliar to veterans.
Our veterans deserve our best efforts helping them assimilate back into civilian life. We owe such a debt of gratitude and one practical way to pay it forward is to do what we can to make this transition easy as possible.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Great Reminder

So, this week Samaritan House celebrated a milestone anniversary and it is amazing to see the evolution of the place over the years.  Like every organization, there are cosmetic changes. New floors have been laid and they look amazing. Fresh coats of paint splashed in strategic places provide a touch of color while local artwork and handcrafted signs adorn the walls to welcome anyone who enters.

Many of the staff was on hand, fielding questions from inquisitive visitors as well as handing the daily operations that needed completed. People mingled in and out; some were regular volunteers who come and go with appreciated predictability. Others were members of the community who have been gracious with donations and assistance over the years. Former residents stopped by to see the changes and say hello. Tours were given and refreshments provided a nice atmosphere.

I arrived relatively early in the process and it was nice to see everything unfolding. A slow but steady stream of people filtered in and out while conversations erupted in all corners, hallways, and offices. There was a nice hum of talking and laughing. I am an introverted person, by nature, so I do well at these events in short spurts. After a little over an hour my wife and I were preparing to leave and were literally walking out the main door when a gentleman humbly and politely stopped me.

I won’t get into the specifics of his conversation because it was personal, but he wanted to say thanks for all Samaritan House did for him. He and his family arrived many months ago and were in need of a place to start over. Through a combination of the help he received at Samaritan House and his own willingness to improve their situation, the family now has a house and he is working regularly.
The drive home was relatively quiet because I kept thinking about the conversation and how we are touching real people with actual felt needs. Our goals at Samaritan House aren’t theoretical. It is an honor to play a small role in people’s lives and we look forward to another 26 years.

Thanks for all you do to help us accomplish this!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Come Celebrate Samaritan House's 26th Birthday!

Today is the 4th of July and we celebrate the independence of our nation. Please have a safe and festive day as you spend time with your friends, family, or even by yourself.  But next Monday, July 11, is also a very a special day for us at Samaritan House, as we are honored to celebrate our 26th Birthday in the Flathead Valley!

For the past 26 years we have done our best to address the needs of the homeless in Kalispell and the surrounding areas. In that time we have served approximately 650,000 meals and housed over 26,000 people. We could not have accomplished this task without the help and support from all of you and we are incredibly humbled to play a part in working towards eliminating homelessness in Montana.

So, please join us next Monday, July 11th, for a celebration at Samaritan House. We will be hosting an open house from 2-6pm at the shelter, 124 9th Ave West in Kalispell. There will be food and tours given. Please come and take this opportunity learn more about what we do, meet our staff, or simply celebrate with us as we look forward to the next 26 years!

Samaritan House is a homeless shelter and transitional living program in Kalispell, Montana. The mission of the Samaritan House is to provide shelter and basic needs for homeless people, while fostering self-respect and human dignity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Montana Eats (Or... How to Practically Save the Planet)

Ingenuity is a nice thing.

Image result for sophia skwarchuk montana eats
Ms. Skwarchuk and Governor Bullock
But when you marry this attribute with intelligence, life becomes interesting and people get uncomfortable. I recently spoke with Flathead High School student, Sophia Skwarchuk, about a social media app she created to address the glaring lack of awareness regarding hunger imbalance in Montana. I expected her to be bright and industrious, but just a few minutes into the conversation I realized she had a level of empathy that truly makes her culpable in changing the world.

Hers is not a helpless compassion, either. It doesn’t fall victim to circumstances and implode with frustration or despair at what is unfolding around her. Instead, it confronts a heartbreaking need with calculated pragmatism; it is the strongest type of empathy because it is proactive.

It is terribly frustrating to notice a societal need that seems to be hiding in plain sight. Nearly 1 in 7 Montanans struggle with hunger, and approximately 48,000 children live in food insecure homes. These are not statistics from Port-Au-Prince or Mogadishu or Bogotá. These are mothers in Helena, grandparents from Havre, and children in Lakeside. People in Montana are going to bed and waking up hungry and either no one knows or no one cares.

While attending the Governors and First Lady’s Council for Childhood Hunger, Sophia assessed this problem and began taking tangible steps to create a remedy for an epidemic plaguing our state. There are resources in Montana for people experiencing hunger, but access to them was problematic because they are so decentralized.

So, what if there was a way for someone to find out what was available in close proximity? One of the most wonderful qualities of the Millennial Generation is their ability to shrink an enormous world into the size of a computer app. Sophia knew it was time to enter the fray and utilize social media to present a lifeline to people who are in danger of drowning in plain sight.

Her app, Montana Eats, was born with the three-fold purpose to provide lists of food banks and pantries around Montana, help locate summer feeding programs, and provide hotlines people can use to for emergency assistance. But getting from point A to point B required more than having an idea. Lots of people have ideas. Lots of people wax eloquent about saving the planet. Lots of people get bored and eventually move on when they realize their benevolence requires a bit of elbow grease.

But how many people read a book and research the internet so they can learn how to write a computer code without having any experience in this area? How many people decide this isn’t enough and discovers there needs to be an intentionality to the program because the majority of low income people in Montana have Android and not iPhones?

I know one.

Montana Eats is an indispensable tool in linking people in need with the proper resources they require to remain healthy. Everything can be found on one data base that helps people find relief and assistance.

It is people like Sophia Skwarchuk that are conduits for hope because she understands despair is created by systemic issues that can’t be wished away. If people are hungry, they need food and if they don’t know where to find food then all the best intentions in the world accomplish nothing. Montana Eats is an amazing resource that is helping save lives because one young lady decided to do something about hunger.

Ingenuity surely is a nice thing.


Monday, June 27, 2016

No Rest for the Weary

When is the last time you were deprived of something? We all have certain things we enjoy and when we can’t partake of these things we often feel a sense of loss or disappointment. Usually we rebound and go on with our lives until another opportunity presents itself, but what if we were not allowed to experience these essential components to life? Food, shelter, healthcare, education…these are all important but where does sleep rank on our lists? What if you were deprived of sleep?

Where and how a person sleeps is often a matter of discipline when said person is residentially challenged. If someone ends up sleeping in a car or RV, shelter or friend's couch, they usually have the issue of being up and about before the rest of the world ever wakes up.

In a shelter, rules typically dictate that the residents leave by a certain time in the morning. In regards to vehicles, some cities have regulations about overnight public parking. If a person is working, they have to find ways to make their job fit the situation; they are dependent on others’ schedules and this is where sleep deprivation hits the hardest. It can have a brutal cumulative effect.

Scientists often lecture us about the dangers of poor sleep habits. Don’t take your iPad into bed with you; stop binge watching The Americans in bed (guilty and guilty). Is it really necessary to edit that final report for work at 2am? Sleeplessness contributes to obesity, diabetes, poor diet, and unproductiveness. And yet, even those of us who should have no problem logging a solid eight hours often struggle to get enough.

But for those who don’t have access to a bed, a locked door, and an iPhone alarm, sleep deprivation is caused by more than just the frivolous decision to eat more ice cream at 11:30 p.m. For individuals without permanent housing, sleep is difficult to come by. When there’s no way to secure your personal belongings, it’s dangerous and frightening to be as vulnerable as we are when we’re in a truly restful sleep.

As a result, sleep becomes a matter of when-you-can, where-you-can. And often, you just can’t, leading to a host of other mental and physical ailments. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increase in mental illness and drug abuse among teenagers, and higher incidents of violence and aggression. The dangers of the elements (in colder climates, even nodding off in the winter may be a death sentence), the possibility of attack, and the physical maladies that arise from perpetual dampness and grime make achieving good sleep an impossible feat.

Even finding enough ground to stake out can be difficult. The discomfort of homelessness has driven some urban businesses to extreme measures, implementing anti-homeless spikes on their buildings to deter people from sleeping there. There are also potential legal ramifications. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reports that of 234 major American cities, 40 percent make it a crime to sleep in public spaces.

When the weather turns cold, some cities open warming shelters. When populations are hungry, food banks and soup kitchens provide nourishment. There are resources for assistance paying utility bills, applying for jobs, even getting to and from work.

But aside from low-income housing, which is often in high demand and still often unaffordable, there is no sleep resource. And without a sleep resource, there seems to be little chance for solving the myriad problems associated with sleeplessness.

Suffering from a lack of sleep, how is a homeless person supposed to do all the things necessary for overcoming their homelessness?