Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"It's your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you." -Rumi

How do you know when an organization is truly successful?  Is it the amount of people they help or the number of resources they provide? Or is it something that is based on the results, determined by long-term effectiveness?

The answer: yes.  For an organization to increase their positive impact, they have to balance all of these things, which is why organizations like the St. Patrick Center are so revolutionary in the plight against homelessness.

The St. Patrick Center is successful for two simple reasons: first, they have created a network of resources to aid their homeless clients in all aspects of their life; second, they require clients to work harder than they work.

Those who come to the St. Patrick Center have their most basic need meet first: housing.  As Rich Totsch--who works through St. Patrick Center's Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) in rural counties such as Franklin--noted, having somewhere stable to sleep relieves stress and provides a foundation off of which clients can rebuild their lives.  Clients are asked where they want to live, and the St. Patrick Center looks for housing to rent in that area.  From there, clients sit down and assess their own needs to create a individualized "wrap-around" approach to their situation.  They are given connections to jobs, medical aid, rehab, mental health resources, and life skills.  St. Patrick Center has established programs like McMurphy's Cafe: an employment training program for those who are homeless to undergo training, class time, and employment in the food service industry, allowing them to take the first step towards holding a job of their own.

The most important thing that the St. Patrick Center creates, however, is independence.  While the Center can repair cars, rent homes, and build resources, it is up to clients to utilize them.  When homeless individuals comes to St. Patrick Center, they begin a journey of self-reflection and strengthening.  This journey begins at the origin of their homelessness: their individual cause.  The first step they take is to reflect on what contributed to their homelessness in the first place, and then to determine what they need to do to avoid relapsing from the same cause.  They determine their dreams and goals, and map out a step-by-step plan to reach the end they want to achieve.  With guidance from the St. Patrick Center, they take the first steps down this road, until they are stable enough to walk it without assistance.

And that is where the beauty of the organization is seen: in those that continue to follow their goals into the future.  94% of those who receive aid from the St. Patrick Center reach full recovery from their homelessness.  They are able to keep jobs, pay for rent, and secure savings, health care, and transportation.  To be effective and successful in Rich Totsch's line of work,"You can't just treat and let go.  You have to give support and a plan [for the future]."

Most of the work done by the St. Patrick Center is in St. Louis, where clients have a wide array of resources at their disposal.  In more rural areas, such as our own, it is much more difficult to hold a job if you have no transportation; there are less housing options available; and the amount and type of resources in the vicinity are much more limited.  Even so, the St. Patrick Center extends their reach as far as possible to rural counties, reaching out to St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren, Jefferson, Franklin, St. Francois, and Washington Counties.  It is up to us now to increase the availability of the resources we have, and create those that we don't.

As you can see by their logo, faith is a huge drive behind the work the St. Patrick Center does, and God's hand can be seen in the massive positive effect that they have.  The St. Patrick Center is revolutionizing the fight against homelessness in a simple way: extending to clients a hand-up, not a hand-out.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them." -Unknown

When Amanda Wilkinson asked the students in her program to create "Worry Dolls", the effect can only be described two ways: Heartbreaking.  And eyeopening.

Then again, what more is there to say when a child worries whether or not there will be enough food for him this week?  Or if his mother will come home tonight?  Or if one of the strangers that is constantly in her home will come into her room while she's sleeping?

While most of us can't imagine having these types of worries when we were young, these are the types of fears that Amanda battles every day in the Union RXI school district with her Pinocchio Program: an early intervention program provided by Crider Center for children in Kindergarten through 3rd grade to battle social and emotional complications.

Yes: we have kindergartners who worry about not having enough food or security or shelter or love in their life.

While not all participants are homeless, some are, many are from impoverished families, and all are fighting factors that could lead to problems down the road--problems such as homelessness.  Some children in the Pinocchio Program have, and continue to, suffer from trauma of some kind, whether it is  not knowing if they will have enough food to eat or a place to sleep that night, witnessing the abuse or neglect of a loved one, enduring abuse or neglect themselves, a parent's substance abuse or mental illness, or various other situations. If healthy coping skills are used, individuals can work through trauma and eventually heal.  On the other hand, without these skills, individuals often--in an effort to eliminate the pain trauma leaves--resort to "dysfunctional coping mechanisms." As with anyone who experiences trauma, we may begin to search for a way to numb the pain we feel--to create a distraction from our own past.  Unfortunately, these situations create common coping methods that aren't exactly healthy ones: substance abuse, depression, difficulty building healthy relationships, self-harm, and aggression--all of which can (and often have) lead to homelessness and poverty down the road.

This is where Amanda and other counselors step in: it is their job to help students "discover healthy ways to work through their feelings and emotions", so that they are better prepared to handle any hardships that they may face in the future.  Poverty and mental illness are largely intertwined, and both together make a cycle that is extremely hard to break--even from generation to generation.  For that reason we have to intervene as early as possible to show these children that, while their past experiences are out of their control and they were NOT the reason these things happened, their future and their personal happiness is up to them.  The goal of the program, as well as Amanda's personal mission, is that if we, "Can teach them coping skills and self-confidence, and teach smart decisions, it will carry over [to adulthood]."

And the effects of the Pinocchio Program's work is the difference between night and day: children who begin the program spending their entire school day without taking their hood down, or raising their hand in class, or saying a single word to anyone, grow to be able to be engaged, self-confident, motivated, and self-loving.  The counselors use things such as a feeling board, play therapy, and mini lessons about things like kindness and self-respect to touch the lives of multiple students in various Franklin County school districts each year.

Organizations like Crider--who established the Pinocchio Program--have put their heart and soul into helping tackle issues in our community.  They have dedicated their lives' work to pairing those who need aid with doctors, dentists, psychologists, mental health specialists, transportation., and a network of community resources.

Our lives affect who we are.  Anything that we do at any age shapes our lives, but we have to decide how to use that past to determine what we want the future to be.  The only way to truly end homelessness and poverty is to eliminate the factors that cause them.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that, in 2013, over 257,000 homeless people in the U.S. suffered from severe mental illness or chronic substance use disorder.  We need organizations like Crider because they find personal, individual ways to help clients grow and overcome problems such as these--and the Pinocchio Program starts with our youth, to provide a way to overcome obstacles both before and during homelessness.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Throughout this project, I've talked a lot about what one organization or another does to eliminate homelessness.

Now it's your turn.

While this entry won't contain any facts or statistics, I hope you find it the most inspiring one so far.  What this blog contains that the others haven't is the chance for you specifically to make a profound difference and experience at least a piece of what it would be like to be homeless.

On April 21st, 2017, I will be hosting a Homelessness Awareness Lock-in on the football field at Union High School.  While we are opening up sign-ups first to Union High School students and Union RXI District staff, the plan is for this to be a community event, open to community organizations and groups.

But, of course, the main thing you need to know is what's going to happen once we get there: the main focus of the night is a surprise activity (so I can't tell you yet!), but trust me--it will be eyeopening.  It will be a night full of experiences that are not available anywhere else in our area.  My hope is to create a night full of keynote speakers, service projects, raffle prizes, a soup kitchen, and much more.  And, to tie in the information we've built up over the past month or two, there will be booths for some of the organizations that prevent homelessness, giving you the chance to see exactly what they stand for and how you can help.

And then, participants will sleep overnight on the football field to experience for one night what it is like to sleep without shelter.  While we could never know exactly what it is like to be homeless without truly experiencing it, the goal of the night is to raise awareness about their situation in a hands-on way, and to raise funds and supplies for organizations who fight homelessness.

As a final fundraiser to support these organizations (and for those who aren't too keen on sleeping on the football field), the plan is to open up the cafeteria to the public for a benefit breakfast April 22nd.

Please note that all of this is just in the planning stages right now.  Nothing (other than the date) is totally set in stone, so I will keep everyone updated as new information arrives.  I will also let you know when it comes time to sign-up, so keep checking in!!  This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many--if not all--involved, and I hope you will all sign up to participate.  If you have any questions or are interested in helping in any way, feel free to comment or contact me!  This is our chance to do something that has never been done in our area before, and I thank you all in advance for the support you will provide to our community.