People of the Pov: 5 Year Anniversary Edition

 

NEWSLETTER CONTENTS


Back in the Day: The Pov Then and Now

By Kristen Border Patton
Director of Operations

The “Old Pov” on Ryman street, circa 2014.

After five years in our new building I have come to realize that some things don’t change at the Pov: The hot meals, the jokes, and staff helping folks who are often having the worst day of their life. Other than these rare exceptions, very little else has stayed the same in my almost eleven years of employment here. When I started in the spring of 2009 in the old shelter on Ryman Street, the shelter was only serving 70-80 individuals per night. These numbers crept up as the country was in the midst of a recession, and options for housing in Missoula as well as case management and support became more scarce.

The staff and guests struggled in that old building; a single person in a wheelchair could stop traffic in the narrow hallways. The building was not wheelchair accessible – I can remember well the days of staff having to carry guests down the stairs if they were having a medical emergency. I remember our busy maintenance guy having to replace the ancient toilets on a regular basis – to the point where our friends over at Home Resource would recognize him, and know that he was after a replacement toilet, which they would often give us free of charge.

In the old building, we did not have commercial grade food storage; instead, we had chest freezers in the basement. Once, one of these freezers that was full of chicken at the time died and wasn’t discovered for a few summer months, and that remains the worst smell I have ever experienced. I remember one particularly cold winter when the heat went out in the administrative offices. The old electrical system couldn’t support both space heaters and laptops, so we had to switch up, charging computers until we were too cold and had to plug in the heaters for a bit. The women’s wing was not secure – we literally had to walk through the women’s dorms to gain access to the meeting area. I remember the old Partnership Health Clinic was separated from the main entrance by a fabric room divider which gave little privacy for folks accessing medical care. The old days were a struggle. That little blue building was never meant to hold the people and activities it did, and it affected our guests’ ability to rebound despite the scrappy staff’s best efforts.

Things have changed since the old days. During our Capital Campaign, we fought hard to raise the funds to build a building that would allow us to serve our guests in a safe and dignified fashion. We now have a private clinic space for Partnership Health Center. We have a full commercial walk-in cooler and freezer that ensures our guests are able to access safe and nutritious food; no more rotten chicken smell!  We have commercial grade bathrooms and our building is wheel-chair accessible. When we first moved into the Broadway shelter, we noticed a big uptick in women accessing our services, as they finally felt safe enough to do so. These things are a blessing for staff and for the folks we serve.

Looking toward the next five years, we have a lot of focus groups and committees that are strategically planning the direction we are headed. That said, it’s also an important time to take a look back and remember where we’ve been.

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The Year in Review: A Letter from the Executive Director

Executive Director Amy Allison Thompson

As I look back on 2019, there have certainly been many challenges the Poverello Center has faced. Myself, the Poverello staff and our board have learned more about plumbing than we ever expected when we faced two sewage floods at the beginning of the summer. Beyond issues with our facilities, we have continued to see a rise in the need for our food programs and emergency shelter.

I see a lot to be hopeful for as well when I look back at 2019. The system-wide shift to a housing first model that the Poverello Center help lead in Missoula in 2018 started to make a real impact. Our Homeless Outreach Team has housed 20 individuals who have been chronically homeless this past year while continuing to build relationships with many more who they help to house in the coming year.

In November, the Poverello Center shifted to a behavior-based policy and began running the extended overnight shelter at the Salvation Army at the request of the City of Missoula. This was the culmination of a year of planning by community leaders to make sure we had enough space for anyone in Missoula experiencing homelessness over our coldest months. One very positive outcome of this change is that we are seeing several individuals who have been resistant to coming into shelter walk through our doors, giving them better access to the services that will help lead them to find permanent homes.

On January 3rd, we had an incident at the Poverello Center that reminded me once again just how much more work we have to do in our community. Because of our commitment to the confidentiality of our guests, and because there is an active police investigation, there is not much I can say about the matter here. In short, on the evening of January 3rd an altercation occurred that resulted in one of our guests dying and another going to jail.

First and foremost, we at the Poverello Center feel deep sorrow over what happened this past weekend as we mourn the loss of a member of our Pov family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family, and our staff is dedicated to supporting guests who, in addition to their existing crisis, are also grieving. We work hard to ensure our shelter is as safe as possible for everyone we serve and strive to professionally serve individuals who are in crisis every single day. As a community, we will come together to evaluate what happened, continue to learn, and strive to improve our services so that everyone who walks through our doors finds a safe and welcoming space.

As I reflect on the incident, I can’t help but think about what the whole Missoula community can do to reduce the number of people who have a housing crisis and end up at the Pov. In this column next year, I would love to be able to report to you that we have housed 50 people and are providing emergency shelter to fewer individuals. But we will not be able to do that on our own. My New Year’s Resolution for our Missoula community is that we will work together to create more affordable housing, more living-wage jobs and more social supports for our most vulnerable neighbors to help them get and stay housed.
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Introducing “Champions of Hope” – Donors and Volunteers with a Big Impact

In 2019 the Poverello Center had 1190 donors. 159 of those donors gave 4 times or more last year, contributing over $820,000 to our mission.

Individuals, businesses, organizations, and foundations who contributed over $1,000 to the Poverello jointly donated over $1.3 million to our work.

We also know anecdotally that a dedicated group of volunteers put in the majority of our volunteer hours and bring in donations of food and other supplies we need to keep the Poverello Center running. During 2019, we put in better systems to be able to track and honor these contributions.

Collectively, we are starting to call these donors and volunteers our Champions of Hope. They are donors who contribute at least 4 times a year in any amount, or over $1000 in a year. They are food and supply donors who contribute at least 4 times a year or give over $1000 in fair market value in food or supply donations. And finally, they are volunteers who put in over 40 hours of volunteer time in a year. Without them, we would not be able to provide food, shelter, help, and hope to Missoulians experiencing homelessness and hunger.

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Champion of Hope Sheila Gray: Volunteer of the Decade

In her spare time, Sheila likes to work out, play mahjong with friends, dine with her grandson, volunteer with her church, St. Paul Lutheran, and travel. She will spend her next adventure driving from Albuquerque to San Diego on Old Route ‘66 with a friend she’s known since she was eight years old.

Eleven years ago, Sheila Gray first walked through the doors of the ‘old Pov’ and began what has become over a decade of service in providing food, shelter, help and hope to Missoula’s hungry and homeless.

“I thrive on diversity and things not being the same all the time,” Sheila said. “At the Pov, you certainly get that. I could never work in an office!”
After retiring from 30 years of teaching in 2001, Sheila took care of her parents. With her few spare hours, she would help sort clothing donations on the third floor of the old Pov twice a week.

For Sheila, nurturing is her nature. She took a short break from volunteering to give her father additional care near the end of his life.

“I was really chomping at the bit to get back,” she said. “Coming back to the Pov was the first thought I had after my father passed away. It has always been a real big part of me.”

After her father’s passing in 2014, Sheila returned to the Pov, beginning with the ribbon cutting for the new building in December of that same year.

“When I talk to my friends about volunteering at the Pov, sometimes they’ll say they just can’t see how I do it, how they don’t have time, and how they could never imagine volunteering,” she said. “But you can’t believe how grateful people are for the little things. That’s probably what hooked me, right there.”

Sheila currently spends a few hours a week at the Pov’s front desk assisting Direct Care staff. Among what she calls doing other “little things” to help people, she hands out gloves, scarves, and socks, re-fills single-use soap and shampoo containers, and listens to people talk. Sheila says she wishes she could do more to help individuals experiencing homelessness access services, but sometimes, she says, just listening to an individual in crisis can be an enormous relief.

“Their problems are so huge, there’s not a lot I can do to that end but the little things,” she says. “I don’t ever ask questions because I don’t think it’s my place, but when I smile, they’ll sometimes open up and tell their story. I really like it when that happens.”

Sheila likes surrounding herself by people who care – people like the Pov staff, she said. Although she knows it’s cliché, Sheila says that in her time at the Pov, she has received so much more than she has given.

“Volunteering just opens up your eyes, heart and ears,” she said. “I can’t imagine not having this as a part of my life.”

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The Pov After Dark: New Night Staff Spotlight

The diversity of Pov staffers is a point of pride–and no one knows this better than the nocturnal crew who make up some of the Pov’s new night staff.

Two years ago, Clair, Night Shifter and Weekend Staffer, was released from prison and lived at the Pov. As a transgender female, the Pov is where she first came out.

“My first day living as myself was at the Pov,” Clair said. “I was treated great by the staff. They actually moved me into the female dorm. It was a pleasant surprise, getting a lot of support like that.”

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in ten transgender individuals have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity, and one in five have experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime.

Clair’s first position at the Pov was working the night shift at the Salvation Army, where the Pov operates a secondary winter shelter and can host up to 60 individuals an evening. This is where guests go when the Pov hits its 175-person cap on the coldest of winter nights.

Night Shifter Eli, openly gay, thinks it’s pretty cool to see so many walks of life at the Pov. Eli spent time in and out of homeless shelters in Miami during his teenage years.

“It was through the roughest parts of my life–the homeless community is what kept me together,” he said. An estimated 20-40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the country come from the LGBTQI+ community.

Eli brings passion to his position–so much so that he turned down two higher paying jobs elsewhere in order to work at the Pov. “Day shift, nights–no matter, I just wanted to work with the people here,” he said.

So what can readers do to help? Clair and Eli agree: “Every little bit of anything helps,” Eli said. “Not just money or food. But also your time. An ear. Coming and listening to whatever our clients have to say – that truly helps.”

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Honoring Those Who Passed

On December 21, 2019 – the longest night of the year – communities across the nation recognized Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. Missoulians gathered in remembrance at the courthouse to honor the 24 people who passed away while experiencing homelessness in 2019. In addition to listing their names below, we have included a piece read at the memorial by Poverello Volunteer and Champion of Hope Barry Maxwell, and the Eulogy as delivered by Rev. Laura Folkwein.

“A Second Coming”
As read at the 2019 Memorial
By Barry Maxwell

If I flew a sign for my daily bread, I’d work the morning commute, down at that intersection where Airport Boulevard undercuts the interstate. I would hail every driver with a smile and a wave, and my sign—for those with eyes to see—would tell a truth so profound, so wondrous and deep, that rush hour would rest for miles around, and workaday commuters would abandon their cars to kneel and marvel and place bills at my feet. Rattling boom boxes on Spirograph rims would hush their subwoofers and respectfully calm their vibrations, and as the angry folks in oil-burning beaters stuttered toward my station, downshifting, pumping their brakes, the teeth would grind smooth from those hostile gears, and resentments would fall away, cluttering the off-ramp like debris in eternity’s drain. The hatemongers driven by overheated tempers would cease their fist shaking and discordant horn pounding; their Get a job! dismissals would humble to embarrassed whispers, and then, surprised by their own compassion, they would trek like pilgrims along the littered shoulder to read with their own eyes The Sign and to praise the one who bore it. Selfies and hashtags would gather and rise visibly above us, like digitized pigeons trending in unison to spread the viral word, carrying images of the corrugated revelation, my testament in Sharpie on oily-edged cardboard. The long suffering traffic lights would birth new colors, their rainbows freed from the karmic cycle of green, yellow, and red, and the cops, when they boxed in the intersection intent on my capture, would throw down their Tasers and find their hearts arrested instead, stunned by giddy enlightenment. They would drop to their knees, vow through tears to lead us in an escort of silver shields and crossed batons to some safe warm home, and pledge to us all to protect and to serve, forever and ever, amen. When rush hour subsided, ending the morning’s labor, I would thank the joyful multitude: the cops, the commuters, the passengers too awestruck to unbuckle their seatbelts, and I would accept their changes, pocket their ones, fives, and tens. I would nod and smile in benediction, and announce to their innocent faces, “Have a blessed day. I will return tomorrow; this is my promise. And as always, thank you, thank you. Anything helps.”

A version of “A Second Coming” was first published in Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, in Issue 203, Nov 2016, and in the Crack the Spine XV Anthology, 2017.

 

Homeless Persons’ Memorial 2019
Dec. 21st, 2019 Eulogy
Rev. Laura Folkwein

Good evening, my name is Laura Folkwein. I am a former staff member at the Poverello Center, and one of the pastors at University Congregational Church here in Missoula.

I have had the privilege of talking with many of you to learn more about the people who we are honoring tonight. I heard sweet stories about some, and stories of tragedy and trauma about others. Many of the lives we honor tonight were full of both struggle and hope–peace and pain. What strikes me about the group of 24 people whose passing we remember, and whose lives we honor tonight, is the wide variety of personalities and experiences they represent.

From what I learned:
Nine of them were Veterans.
Five of them were women.
I believe three were Native American. They were Blackfeet, Salish, and Cheyenne.
Some may have identified as LGBTQ, I’m not certain.
Some died tragically. Some survived serious trauma.
Some had major mental health issues.
Some had family they were in touch with, who loved them and cared for them.
Some had substance abuse issues.
Some had wide circles of friends.
Some only shared their lives with a few.
Some were loners.

Some stayed at the Pov, others camped out or couch surfed.
No two of these individuals were exactly alike, and none fully fit any stereotype of homelessness. They were all unique, precious lives. They gave and they took. Their lives shone brightly, and sometimes their actions cast a shadow.

We are going to take some time now to remember them. I beg your patience as I share a bit about each person on the list we have just spoken.

Eric Carswell identified as a Buddhist and worked in the Pov kitchen.

Richard Bloomquist was a sweet, friendly man a great sense of humor. He was committed to sitting behind the fire extinguisher in the Pov dining room. He had many friends and is dearly missed.

Josephine May Smiley was a sweet spirit who always had a smile on her face. She fought her substance abuse issues and died in a car accident on her way to treatment. How unfair.

*Daniel John “Beaver” Bullplume, III was a father and a Veteran. A wake and funeral were held for him at Old Eagle Shields in Browning. He was buried in the Heart Butte Cemetery with military honors.

*Randall Armon was a Veteran who was enrolled in Housing Montana Heroes, the Transitional Housing Program at the Pov for Veterans. He had a good sense of humor and a sweet personality, which was matched by his sweet tooth.

Michelle Andrews was 46 when she died tragically. She had family in Missoula and didn’t like staying at the Pov. The Garden City Funeral Home handled her arrangements. She will be missed.

Mike Michelle was married and a long-time Missoula resident. Staff guessed that he probably stayed at the old Pov up on Ryman St, as well as the new one.

*Vern Linderman was a gentleman, a cowboy, and a Veteran of the US Air Force. The Missoulian published a great photo of him asleep on a park bench, titled “Cowboy Nap.” The photographer caught him snoozing on a park bench with his hat hung on the corner of a bench and his head resting on a satchel. He didn’t talk too much, and sometimes told a tall tale or two. Vern’s tall stature and gentle nature will be missed.

Dale Peterson- was, well, a Missoula and a Pov fixture. He died on the Fourth of July, on the courthouse lawn in his wheelchair. The Outreach Team had worked tirelessly to get him into and keep him in housing in recent years, but Dale was gonna do what Dale was gonna do. He was dearly loved by many and will be greatly missed.

Ray Kushner was a loving brother and father of Coco. He died in the hospital surrounded by family.

Mike Bucholz had just gotten into housing before he became very ill and passed away. He was funny, caring, and beloved by Pov staff. He had reunited with family shortly before his death.

George Voss was a crotchety old guy, who used a wheelchair. He mostly kept to himself. His life meant something to someone. He won’t be forgotten.

Jeremiah Colin Redhorn Spotted Blanket was 34 when he died under tragic circumstances outside of Missoula. What I am assuming was his Salish name, Saapoii meant “Wind.” Jeremiah’s family knew he had gone missing and his mother looked for him for many weeks. His memorial service was held in St. Ignatius in August, and he is buried at the St Ignatius Catholic Cemetery. His family loved him.

*Ross Nickelson was a Veteran who had lived at Valor House until he got into his own housing. He had many friends, loved fishing, and had a great sense of humor. Ross also had a sweet tooth. The story is that when he was up at Ft Harrison, his case workers used to bribe with cake, to follow up on his case plans. It worked. He looked out for his mom and his sister, and always told Pov staff to ‘be safe,’ as they left for the day. They knew he meant it.

Jana Shields – No one I talked with knew much about Jana. She was someone’s child and likely someone’s friend in this life. Her life was not lived in vain, without causing some good or making some impact in this world.

*Larry Hembree was a Veteran and at one point was a resident in Housing MT Heroes. He was one of my first clients when I worked in that program at the Pov. Larry will be remembered for his sweet nature, his big dreams, his desire to help others, and the letters he wrote.

We don’t know much about David James Smith. He was someone’s child, and likely someone’s friend. His life was not lived in vain.

Linda Bolin was Chuck James’ sister. Chuck and Linda have another sister in town also. Linda was a sweet woman who always offered a helping hand to others in need. At the Pov for meals, she kept a special eye on elders and folks in wheelchairs, and helped where she could. She will be missed.

*Raymond WhiteShield was 62. He died peacefully in his sleep at Community Medical Center. From his obituary: Raymond was born on March 30, 1957, in Clinton, Oklahoma, to Ray White Shield and Mary Louise Red Shin. As a young boy, his family called him “Porcupine,” after their great-grandfather, Chief Porcupine of the Cheyenne people, and leader among the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. Raymond was a high school and college athlete, known for his work ethic. Ray worked at Hallmark Cards and as a Commercial Trucker for businesses including Hagen Daaz ice cream. He was a Veteran of the US Navy, where he saw the world. He served in Grenada in the 80’s. He was the father of three (two daughters and a son), and loved nature. In recent years he wandered between Independence Missouri, Denver, and Missoula. Memorial services for Raymond were held in Oklahoma. The family asked that memorial gifts be sent to the Poverello Center.

*Patrick Ziemann was a Veteran. Pov Veterans Services staff admired him for his persistence and survival skills. He was evicted and squatted in his apt for about 3 months afterwards. He was a survivor and he had a goofy sense of humor.

*Vess Empson was a very sweet man. He had an odd sense of humor, which was funny, if you understood it. He had a girlfriend, and other friends also. Clair told me a story of Vess standing up to someone—at least twice his size in the Housing MT Heroes community room. He was a small man, unsteady on his feet, but when someone made a remark that was hurtful, Vess stood up and asked the commenter if he wanted to ‘take it outside.’

Hallie Eayrs-Major was 46 and died at home. She was a very quiet woman who struggled. She stayed at the Pov off and on, and had many friends who will miss her.

James McGearty* was a 20 year career Veteran. His health declined during the end of his life at the Pov and he struggled. James loved military coffee mugs. He spent any extra money on mugs from all branches of service and wanted to give them out to folks who had served. The Pov inherited a collection of his mugs and will have them to give out to Veterans for a while to come.

Eric Capana passed away just this week. He lived without a home for over 20 years and was a private and humble person. He ate meals at the Pov and always helped clean up in the dining room. He didn’t ever want anyone to feel that he was taking advantage of the help he received there. Eric, your giving spirit will be missed.

Let us take a moment to remember those who have passed this year in our community who are unnamed or unknown.

May we remember all of these lives as a gift to us.
The world is different for their having lived in it.
May any harm they did be forgiven.
May the good they did be remembered.
May all they rest in peace from their labors in this world.
May they have a good and peaceful crossing over.

Amen.

 

In Memorium

Eric Carswell  |  Richard Bloomquist  |  Josefine May Smiley  |  Daniel Bullplume  |  Randall Armon*  |  Michelle Andrews  |  Mike Michelle  |  Vern Linderman*  |  Dale Peterson  |  Ray Kushner  |  Mike Bucholz  |  George Voss  |  Jeramiah Spotted Blanket  |  Ross Nickelson*  |  Jana Shields  |  Larry Hembree*  |  David James Smith  |  Linda Bolin  |  Raymond WhiteShield*  |  Patrick Ziemann*  |  Vess Empson*  |  Hallie Eayrs-Major  |  James McGearty*  |  Eric Capana

                                                                                                                                                                           *Veteran

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