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.