Interested in Volunteering?
Find us on:
There are no comments.
There is an old parable “before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes”. On Saturday night that is what Councilman Mike Kennedy, Commissioner Todd Tondee, Dirne Executive Director Mike Baker, Family Promise Executive Director Cindy Wood and I did at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds.
Originally the evening was set up as a fundraiser for Dannette Kram to help offset medical costs. Sadly Dannette recently succumbed to cancer but we wanted the events to happen anyway. A couple of months ago Dirne’s Patty McGruder and Natalie Forsythe wanted to put together an event that will help bring attention to homelessness in our community. They asked if we would be willing to spend the night with the homeless community and get a glimpse of what their life was like. Although I’m usually an “early to bed, early to rise” type of guy, I gladly jumped in with both feet. I was told that it would be fun with music, food, and fires in a barrel. There was a full slate of activities on this Saturday; at 2:30pm we can set up camp at the Fairgrounds; 3pm-5pm was dinner at Cherished One’s Ministries; 5pm-10pm The Syndicate, an amazing Christian nonprofit I had the pleasure to meet, was providing music and auction items with all proceeds going to the Kram family. Then at 10pm we’d all head to the fairgrounds.
I started the night off VERY selfishly. I wanted to see the Gonzaga Lady’s play Louisville. Using my Boy Scout knowledge, I packed up my equipment in my van and right after the game I headed to Calypsos. Driving up I noticed it was PACKED! Once I was able to get in, people were talking, music was playing, lots of auction items, and Kevin Kram, standing against the wall, was there totally humbled by the event. I felt like I came in after the party. I met the coordinator of the evening, Kyle, President of the Syndicate. His energy and passion for this cause was palpable, and the energy in the room as fantastic. A smile naturally came across my face, adrenaline was pumping and I was ready for the night. I headed to the fairgrounds.
The first thing I noticed when I got the fairgrounds was that there were already many people there around the burn barrels. I got out of my car, noticed that it wasn’t too cold out so I threw on a jacket and baseball cap and joined the “community”. From the moment I got there I was met with friendly smiles and handshakes of “thank you for coming”. Soon after I got there I noticed Family Promises’ Cindy Wood had beat everyone there and was sitting at the fire, Dirne’s Mike Baker showed up soon after I did, Commissioner Tondee and Councilman Kennedy soon after that.
From the moment I got there I couldn’t help notice a family atmosphere. They called their group a “community”. There were those who’ve been on the streets a long time, and short timers. There were young and old. Male and female. To everyone the “community” was their security blanket, their therapists, mother figures, father figures, protectors, teachers and their safety net. There was a guitar player, harmonica player, and singers-good singers. I spent the night getting to know some of the members of the “community”.
First I met “Alex”, 22 years old, no job and couch surfing. He was a talker but had really interesting things to say. He talked about the government, his family and had a lot of opinions. He was funny and had awesome jokes to kill the time. He told his story of never being able to catch a break. He was looking for work and had filled out applications all over town but nobody was hiring. He was excited to be there and said the “food and fires were a treat”! He was really enjoying the marshmallows. Then we met Jody and Jessica, mid 20’s to mid 30’s. WOW! Here were 2 smart and attractive women who climbed out of the pit of substance abuse and are now role models for other women. Jody told the story of the “meth hell” she was in. But, through God, was able to find help, get clean, get her kids, and is now the house manager at a transitional program for women. She is an inspiration. Jessica has a similar background and is looking to a bright future. I met “Hippy Dave” too. He was awesome!! Funny and insightful, I enjoyed sitting on the hay bale eating Doritos chips with him. He had an opinion about almost everything. Then I met his son “Jeff” , 21 years old, who has lived in Coeur d’Alene all his life. Jeff is smart, bright, and has great ideas. He and his fiancé are expecting their first child. Unfortunately, he is working but struggles with a place to live. I met Tim the cook, Martin, and countless others who are always living outside.
At about 1:30am it began to rain. I walked back to my van to grab my rain coat and on the walk back I was noticing that all of the tents these folks were sleeping in were Spring/Summer tents. They were lightweight, tiny, short flys draped over the tops of them, and no ground tarps. It was pouring bucket, windy and I knew these tents were going to be soaked by morning. At around 2:30am most of the gang was still there but I was getting soaked by the rain and, being an early riser, was tired. So I went to bed. I woke up a few times to the sounds of faint music and laughing still going on. At about 5:15am I got up and the rain had turned to blowing snow. It was cold! Freezing cold! My pants and coat were still wet so I huddled around the fire with Alex and a few others. As in any community there was people helping others get dry, one gentleman had a stack of coffee cups pouring coffee, and everyone was being asked if they wanted a bite to eat before the 7:00am breakfast that Tim and his family were making. I was all over that coffee. As the morning progressed my fellow guests started to get up and we compared notes. We talked about how cold it was and how wet we were. We talked about the conversations we had over night and were amazed at the resiliency of our new friends. These guys would put any Boy Scout to shame.
Unfortunately I had to leave at 8:00am for a family commitment but I pulled some thoughts about this experience that will affect the way St Vincent de Paul can provide services. There are many nonprofits that are doing amazing things for our community. We meet monthly to discuss services met and services needed. But have we ever really asked those living on the street what they need? What do they need and what can the community do to help them, not what we think they need. Next, we need to create jobs and put these folks in position to get these new jobs. Clean clothes, new clothes, shower, haircuts all are important in the employment world. Lastly, but not least, we need more affordable housing. Right now the average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in Kootenai County is just over $712 per month. Someone full-time making $7.50 an hour that’s $1,200 per month-GROSS PAY, no taxes being taken out. Now, depending on deductions, take out taxes. That leaves around $972 to pay rent, food, utilities, baby formula, diapers, fix a car and gas to get to work. Could we live on $972 per month? I read the blogs and see the comments. I hear “all they have to do is get a job”, “they’re all addicts” or “they just need to pull their bootstraps up”! What if they don’t have boots? The people who make those comments weren’t spending the night at the fairgrounds Saturday night.
One last sobering observation as Mike Baker, Mike Kennedy and I made as we were shivering in the cold. The three of us had an amazing experience and made new friends. Mr. Baker was saying his wife was ill and had to go home, Mr. Kennedy’s kids had soccer games that Sunday and my son was going skiing. It was life as usual for us but for our new friends they will still be outside. We get to go home, take a shower and crawl into bed. Alex, Martin, Jeff and Hippy Dave will still be outside. For 12 hours I enjoyed my evening and it refocused my passion to serve. For 12 hours “I walked a mile in their shoes” and it made me sad.
Click here to cancel reply.
Remember my details
Notify me of followup comments via e-mail
201 E. Harrison
Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814
More Contact Information