Monday, February 29, 2016

On the Road (part2)

So... here are some final (hopefully) helpful tips.
Clean clothes are really important when you are homeless. I would suggest at least 3 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, and 3 -t-shirts. You will also want at least 3 pairs of underwear and buy yourself a 6-pack of socks. Your feet take a beating when you are homeless and you will go through a lot of socks.
Another thing you will want to have is a tarp or plastic drop cloth. There are going to be nights when it rains and you'll be glad you have it. You can use it to shelter yourself from the wind and rain or lay it down on the ground. The ground can be very cold and damp. I also recommend buying a cheap sleeping pad or egg crate foam. Buy something you can roll up and easily carrying around.
Lastly, as absurd as it may seem you will need a cellphone to survive. A cellphone is animportant tool for anyone living in places not meant for habitation. An important function of a cellphone is its ability to double as an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning.Cellphones are also good to have in case of an emergency. Even if you have run of minutes you can still use your cellphone to call 911. You can also give out your number to family members or friends who may need to reach you or leave a message. If you arelooking for a job a cellphone is a must-have.
Cellphones are really cheap nowadays. Even without credit you can pick up a prepaid one for less than $20. Just watch your minutes and it shouldn't cost you much to maintain. You can charge your phone at the local library while you're using the computer or find a working outlet someplace else.
I would not encourage anyone to chose a life of homelessness but I also know there arepeople reading this who are homeless. I hope these tips are helpful, but never forget there are resources that can help with most issues that are precursors to homelessness. Family members and friends are often able and willing to lend assistance but they can't help if they are unaware there is a problem. Communication is a key component to avoiding homelessness, so let people know how they can help!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On The Road (part 1)

Montanans prides themselves on preparedness. In Big Sky Country, opposition provides chances for opportunity and challenges allow an individual to assess their strengths and weaknesses. We don't like to be caught off guard so we do our best to anticipate all manners of calamity, catastrophe, apocalyptic trauma, and-end-of-the-world global events. If there is something to prepare for, there is a great possibility it will not catch many Montanans by surprise.
But even the most ardent and diligent person can't predict every scenario that can reek havoc in a person's life. There is always a possibility something can sneak up on us.Homelessness is not something most people prepare for. There's no insurance for it and I haven't come across any policies that can be purchased to prevent it. Most people who end up homeless never thought it would happen to them, so no real preventative measures are taken. Usually when it happens it blindsides people. So if you are homeless and reading this, please take the following advice into consideration.
First, contact our shelter at 124 9th Avenue West or call our office at 257-5801. But if you are making a conscious decision to remain unsheltered, here are some suggestions to keep you going...
A backpack is invaluable and perhaps the single most important item you can have. You can haul your belongings with you at all times so unattended items are less likely to be stolen or vandalized. You can buy one at any box store but it would be worth your while to check thrift stores, where they will be cheaper.
Another essential item is a sleeping bag or blanket. Montana has extreme and potentially dangerous weather patterns, especially in the winter, so a sleeping bag can literally be a lifesaver. You can always layer up inside of the sleeping bag. You don't want to be cold at night, you'll be miserable. You can also buy an emergency Mylar blanket. These are small, compact, and cheap but can keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
When you are homeless you won't always have access to a shower and sometimes you will have to make due. You don't want people judging you because your appearance stands out. You can minimize this by buying a cheap bar of soap and some deodorant. If you can find a clean bathroom you can give yourself a quick birdbath.
I cannot stress enough how important a toothbrush and toothpaste is. When you are homeless the last thing you may be thinking about is brushing your teeth but it's so important. Gum disease can quickly evolve into a major problem that might range from discomfort and minor bleeding to eventual loss of teeth and infection.
Next week I will continue this article with some final helpful tips.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Crime and Punishment

This is such an economically polarizing time to be alive. The percentage of poor Americans who dwell in extreme poverty has reached a 32-year high as nearly 16 million Americans live in “deep or severe poverty.” This drastic rise in the level of poverty extends beyond the traditional ghetto and reaches to suburban and rural communities. Poverty is no longer an issue addressed only in the media or in other people's backyards; it is a reality that shapes entire communities and commands
solutions in our own Flathead Valley.

But what impact does this have on crime rates? The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that "Poverty is the parent of crime." His implication was that people living in a constant state of need, with no hope for improvement, might be prone to act in ways contrary with their true ethical values if they believe their survival is dependent on such behavior.
Basically... people who think they have no other way to survive will do things and commit acts they normally would never consider doing because they feel they have no other recourse to live. Poverty induces different responses from different people. It is a gross and unfair generalization to say that most poor people are prone to commit crimes. But it is also worthwhile to look at the correlation between poverty and crime because to suggest there is no relationship is simply not true.
The relationship between poverty and crime has been a controversial subject over the years. Some scholars argue poverty does not have a causal relationship to crime because there are many countries in which poverty is very high but the crime rate is relatively low, especially in Europe. Here, a conclusion can be drawn supporting criminal behavior as a psychological or non-economically driven activity. Some people commit crimes for reasons not driven by economic hardship.
But it also would be hard to argue there is not a relationship between crime and poverty. In the United States, 53% of those in prison earned less than $10,000 per year before incarceration. Let that sink in for a minute. More than half of the people in prison came from backgrounds of extreme poverty.
Sociologist and criminal justice scholars have found a direct correlation between poverty and crime. One economic theory of crime assumes that people weigh the consequences of committing crime.They resort to crime only if the cost or consequences are outweighed by the potential benefits to be gained. It becomes an issue of risk/reward and some people are in situations where they feel the risk of getting caught breaking the law is a necessary reality in order to secure a future. It doesn't make it legally right, but it does provide context for why some people choose to break the law.
Ironically, as the numbers of those in extreme poverty has increased so has the number of those who experiencing substantial financial growth. Bridges need to be formed between those in cities and other impoverished areas with meager resources and those who possess significant financial resources. Those who are interested in helping must adopt the attitude of teaching people how to fish instead of passing out fish sandwiches if persistent problems such as crime and poverty are to be effectively addressed.If there is a connection between poverty and crime, then there needs to be a correlation between prosperity and communal success.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Word, Rearranged

A few days ago I was walking through a department store, perusing the various graphic tee shirts staring back at me from the numerous hangers and racks. I was greeted by super heroes and rock bands. Cartoon characters and zombies all vied for my attention while every villain from the Star Wars franchise glared just menacingly enough to straddle the line between intimidation and marketability.
Eventually I had my fill of screen-printed scenery and was on my way to sporting goods when a certain shirt caught my attention. It was powder blue and written in a yellow lasso-looking script was the phrase, "The Pursuit Is Happiness." Obviously, it was a play on the phrase, "The Pursuit Of Happiness," which is a well known part of the Declaration of Independence. Initially, I was a little annoyed with what I saw because I think lacks imagination to hijack a well-known phrase and co-opt it into an easy money maker. What kind of hippie, Jack Kerouac nonsense was this, anyway?
We all know its better to focus on the "of" instead of the "is," right? We should plow forward and strive for results; something concrete we can point to as an accomplishment, right?
Or... maybe not. What if we truly slowed down, took a step back and surveyed our surroundings in a way that allowed us to enjoy them rather than worry about perpetually conquering them? We exist in a world thriving on results and finish lines. But reaching those goals can be more rewarding than surpassing them. Sometimes our journey is difficult and it nearly always involves sacrifice and devotion. We work hard to improve our situation and the lives of those we care about. Its not a bad thing to enjoy and savor the progress we make.

So many of our former residents have transcended terrible circumstances that would have discouraged others from continuing. Working towards something is a process that doesn't happen over night. We can't wave a magic wand and wish a better outcome into  existence. And I don't think we would truly appreciate life if there was no sacrifice involved.

So this is dedicated to everyone out there... Those who are homeless, living in poverty, or anyone who has taken the time to find the beauty in the journey. Its interesting how one word can make a monumental difference and rearrange an entire message.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reality Check

I like background noise. When I'm reading or working its nice to have some sort of distraction filing the periphery because it actually helps me focus on what I'm doing. Usually whatever is buzzing around goes in one ear and out the other and settles into a peaceful, droning hum. Every now and then an occasional phrase or sentence catches my attention and then I go back to work with little interruption to my concentration.
 A few nights ago I was researching a few ideas for this blog and, as usual, there was TV show on that I was paying virtually no attention to. The premise is about a single man who is surrounded by an entire flock of beautiful women, from which he must eventually try and select someone to potentially marry. At his whim and leisure he chooses women to go on dates with and they swim and go on vacations and horseback ride and make out and the list of perks is quite endless. But, at the end of each episode he must eliminate a lady or two from contention by sending them home.
 I was doing a phenomenal job of ignoring this show because I think it represents pretty much everything I can't stand about what entertainment has devolved into. But, I realize we all like different things and 'to each their own.' Anyway, I know I can be overly opinionated and look for arguments where there aren't any to be found. I'm learning to let things go and that I should focus my aggravation on things that matter.
 And I was doing a great job for a long time... I was really trying. But then the guy on the show said something so utterly insensitive and ignorant that I couldn't contain myself. I went off on a tirade and my wife almost asked me to leave the room, and politely reminded me that no one was forcing my to watch the show in the first place. Point taken, so I thought I'd write about it.
 "I've never had a problem like this. It's tearing me apart."
 That was the statement uttered by the young man when he couldn't decide which girls he liked the most and which he would have to send home. Um... Problem? Every day our residents, and readers of this blog, face real problems. The kind that keep them up at night because these problems don't have commercial breaks to interrupt them. These problems revolve less around which wine to have with dinner and address whether or not the next paycheck is going to keep the heat on.
 I was incensed that he had the gall to equate his dilemma with people who strive to solve and overcome real setbacks everyday. The kind that determine life and death and not who gets to have a picnic bonfire while watching the sunset in Malibu. Entertainment     has many purposes and one of those is to offer an escape from reality for a few minutes and there's nothing wrong with that; As long as we recognize reality isn't a TV show for most of us.
 Thanks for truly assisting us as we address real issues faced by genuine people we share a community with. We appreciate the difference you make win every donation and volunteered shift to contribute towards a greater good that really matters. There are heartfelt problems we all face and its encouraging to know that we are in this fight to address homelessness together.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The People in Your Neighborhood

When I was a kid one of my favorite television shows was Sesame Street. To this day, it's iconic theme song can still get stuck in my head for days if I happen to hear it. Fortunately, I can honestly tell you this doesn't happen with much regularity, so my limited brain-space is usually freed up for limitless loopings of Journey songs or trying to remember where I parked at the store.

One of the best segments of Sesame Street was called 'the people in your neighborhood' and it focused on the everyday people who perform amazing deeds simply by living their lives in service of others. I thought it would be fitting to honor one of these individuals and the organizations she is affiliated with. These businesses have not asked for this nor do they ever clamor for public attention or kudos. They do their jobs every day, without fanfare, because they understand that a community can only be as strong as its members who give back. It is my pleasure to tell you a little about the Flathead County Library in Kalispell.

Many of our residents at Samaritan House spend a considerable amount of their time at the library so I thought it would be worth a visit to find out, from the library's perspective, just how the daily influx of homeless people impacted it. I recently met with Connie Behe who serves at the assistant director to discuss the situation and left the conversation with so much to think about because what she is doing in Kalispell utterly transcended my idea of what a library is.

"We're done telling people to be quiet."

This was one of the first things she told me when I inquired about the atmosphere and services they offer. One of their goals is to remove the barrier between the staff and those who patron the library. You will not find the quaint little lady wearing horn-rimmed glasses with her hair in a tightly kept bun. Before our meeting, I wandered around to garner a feel for the place and it was a welcoming hub of activity and interaction and, dare I say it... noise? It was not chaotic and there was an order that permeated the building, but I actually felt happy to be there; it was almost like they wanted people there. Crazy.

My meeting confirmed my suspicions as Behe talked about the various programs they offer the community. Lifelong learning for all ages is a key component of what the library offers. Yes, people can come and use the internet for free. Most of our residents do this and it is a vital resource for them to search for employment as well as take online educational courses. But they offer so much more. The library acts as a living organism to help people of all ages to actively participate in improving their lives. Can they still check out books? Sure. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are programs for children and adults, as well as an area for teenagers, and quiet rooms for studying.

As our conversation drew to a close, I asked how the library felt about the homeless who have become regulars over the years. I have conducted enough interviews to know an insincere or rehearsed answer when I hear one. That's why it was pleasantly refreshing to hear Behe stress that the homeless who use the library were assets to what was going on. She spoke of how respectful and appreciative most people were and then she echoed a sentiment that is a long-held belief of mine:

"We trust in the better nature of the people we meet. It's important to us to treat people with respect and we try to make this a safe and comfortable environment with a sense of fairness. We want people to want to be here."

And I believe her.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Our Veterans are Amazing People

Here is more information about homeless veterans, nationally. The veterans I have gotten to know over the years have impacted my life in a significant way. If we think about, most of us know a veteran or have someone who severed in our own families. Its both heartbreaking and maddening when those who have served our country end up homeless. 

There are so many factors that can lead to homelessness. An extreme shortage of affordable housing is one of the most common. If a person cannot find a place to live, then options are limited. Something we've addressed a great deal on this blog is the lack of a livable income which leads to mounting bills and an inability for a person to sustain them self. Inadequate access to health care  is another factor contributing to people losing their homes. But our veterans face all these and some other obstacles unique to them

A large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.
A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.

Some veterans have difficulty receiving services. Each year, VA’s specialized homelessness programs provide health care to almost 150,000 homeless veterans and other services to more than 112,000 veterans. Additionally, more than 40,000 homeless veterans receive compensation or pension benefits each month.

Since 1987, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with such community service providers to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. VA, using its own resources or in partnerships with others, has secured nearly 15,000 residential rehabilitative and transitional beds and more than 30,000 permanent beds for homeless veterans throughout the nation. These partnerships are credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by 70% since 2005. 

Veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing, nutritional meals, basic physical health care, substance abuse care and aftercare, mental health counseling, personal development and empowerment. Additionally, veterans need job assessment, training and placement assistance.
Samaritan House strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping them obtain and sustain employment.

Information courtesy of National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Amazing Veterans

America is an incredible place.

I've had the benefit and pleasure of having travelled to more than 20 different countries and I have some context to make some comparisons. One of the most amazing things about the United States is our ability to say or write or scream or sing or paint whatever we want in a lawful manner.

Our freedom of expression is admired and envied by people all over the world. Even if we disagree with another person's ideas or opinions we agree they should be able to express their message. It is my pleasure to use this freedom and forum to express thanks for one of the unsung and underappreciated groups in America: veterans.

The ongoing presidential campaign has pushed veteran's issues to the national forefront tand has provided an amazing opportunity for a dialogue about the treatment of our veterans, so I am honored to take some time and try to further the discussion.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), most of our homeless veterans are male, and only about 9% are female. The majority are single and live in or around cities. Sadly, a large proportion suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.

America’s homeless veterans run the gambit regarding the wars they span, having served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

We, at Samaritan House, have made veterans a priority. We've housed, supported, and helped countless veterans find employment, permanent housing, and the resources and tools to assimilate back into a society that is better with them in it. We rely on your kindness and partnership to make a difference. We fight daily without the benefit of immense fanfare or sudden popularity. We grind away every day because we care.