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.