Homeless Veteran, Jim Wolf, Wins The Day! Building Community Based Resources…

Homeless veteran amazing transformation…

Jim Wolf

“U.S. Army veteran Jim Wolf hasn’t had an ideal life since returning home. He has struggled with poverty, homelessness, and alcoholism for decades, but two months ago he volunteered to undergo a physical transformation for Degage Ministries, a charity that aims to help veterans who have fallen on hard times and transform their lives.”

How many more “Jim Wolf’s” could we save? No doubt in my mind, 10s of 1000s more could be saved, if they were kept in our communities to thrive. And, not wind up in jail, hospital or worse…

https://www.degageministries.org/

Let’s see how Degage Ministries builds community collaborations to save lives. This non-profit business model is paving the way by building a community based partnership to save the lives of millions who suffer on the streets and die young.

We can duplicate this success story all over America. No one needs to reinvent anything. All we need to do, as a community, is love each other enough to care about others in need.

Transforming Lives, Restoring Hope

“Dégagé Ministries offers help and hope to homeless and disadvantaged individuals in our community.”

Dégagé’s goal is to assure that every man and woman we serve, knows that he/she is not alone.

Too many hardships exist in life and none of us are exempt from them.

For those 400-500 individuals servee daily at Dégagé, many of whom are homeless and low-income, the hardships can be overwhelming. Loss of shelter, loss of employment, loss of a loved one, loss of control and loss of opportunity is incalculable.

Most of us have food on the table, a beer or toke, and a TV to watch NFL Monday Night Football. And with due respect, most dont know what Jim Wolf or any of the 1000s of veterans like him go through.

Believe me when I say, “it is inhumane to put humans in jail when they are sick and need from their community.” There is no empathy or compassion to leave your brothers and sisters hanging out on the side street next to Starbucks in Newport, Oregon or anywhere else in America.

The homeless are by and large, good and decent people who care about each other just like the rest of us. They suffer, just like the rest of us with serious physical and behavior health problems.

The homeless live with emotional pain along with other health care issues, that go unattended. These health care problems get far worse when there is no proactive community based services to help them.

It also no surprise to me to have learned while working with my colleagues in Lincoln County and elsewhere, the cost is enormous. Federal, State, County and local municipalities all pay big without community based services.

There is one worse case example I know about awhile back. A homeless man visited the local hospital ER about once a week for emergency care for almost one year. The cost of care was upwards of $1million!

Sadly and tragically, this man was found dead in the parking lot of a local supermarket early one morning. This scenario repeats itself all over America, each and everyday of our lives.

These are the forgotten ones. Your, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and dear friends are in the mix. These are the ones who are alone. There is no love in this, sadly and tragically.

In my view, it’s inhumane to expect humans to survive on the streets, without a home or food on the table. Our furry friends cannot survive long without food and shelter either.

Imagine what it might be like for you if left homeless tomorrow… Or, How would you feel if your neighbors furry loved one was lost. Imagine, your 6 month old Golden Doodle lost on the streets alone somewhere in the dark…

Degage’s programming is designed to address immediate and long-term needs such as overnight respite for women in crisis, food, referral services and hygiene facilities. And, with these hardships, they lose much more. Many feel unworthy and hopeless. Society has looked down upon them, or they have been rejected after repeatedly trying to move forward on their own…

One local non-profit I have had the privilege to work with over the years is CHANCE, Albany, Oregon. CHANCE serves three counties in Oregon, Linn, Benton, and Lincoln. LBL for short.

https://www.chancerecovery.org/m/

For our region, we have built a ‘public private partnership’ that funds community based partners, including law enforcement, county behavioral health and public health, healthcare providers, federal, state, county and local municipalities. Yes, it’s a long list.

www.stepuptogether.org is the business model. Please bookmark as a reference and resource, especially County .gov officials.

https://www.chancerecovery.org/m/

All 3000 Counties in America either do the Degage’ and CHANCE models or are ramp-up with smaller steps to get ready for action. This is the future.

That’s why it is critical to transform communities to fit the criteria for funding and sustainability of such an enormous undertaking. Too many communities have old business models that serve as “barriers.” The hard part is breaking down barriers…

“It’s a very tall order,” a colleague told me in 2016. She also said, “many have tried and failed.” “Steve, we can do this, I know! I believed her, and we did, indeed, make it happen. I know this too…

We made it happened because we loved our community and each other. This is who we are, a community that loves and cares for our most vulnerable citizens.

This is who we are!

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate…and, aspiring artisan.
My neighbor, down on the Bayfront, Newport, Oregon

“Froggy” The Christmas Spirit, Part 2…

Froggy, Algee Bear and GI Joe Bear

Home for the Holidays!

Part 1 quote…as a segue to part 2 of this series… https://survivethriveptsd.org/2020/12/froggy-the-homeless-christmas-spirit-and-algee-bear/

“Froggy felt he was home, no longer scared and lonely. Gi Joe Bear felt the same.. They both talked with hope and joy for a better future.

Algee Bear helped Froggy find a new home with loving foster parents who took him in for good. He was so sad to say good bye to his pal, GI Joe Bear.

Algee Bear found GI Joe Bear a veterans home in Lebanon, south of Portland. GI Joe Bear would find a caring home and health care for his wounds from war.

Froggy was loved again and finally home…”

Froogy’s new foster home…Depot Harbor

On Christmas Day, Algee Bear, took Froggy for a short drive north on 101 to the little coastal town of Depot Harbor.

Froggy’s new foster parents were Cathy and Matt Biggs, who also were life long residents of Depot Harbor.

Algee Bear gave Froggy the amazing story of Depot Harbor…great fishing, pirates, rum runners and more… as they drove north past Beverly Beach and over Cape Foulweather.

“Even Sir Francis Drake visited Depot Harbor way back in the 17th Century when greated by curious fearful indigenous folks,” Algee Bear would say proudly. Native American traditions and heritage have a strong influence on the Central Oregon Coast.

Froggy met his new foster parents, Cathy and Matt Biggs, at the Newport shelter for homeless children the night before.

But Froggy couldn’t understand why anybody would want him. “I’m so ugly!” He thought sadly. Algee Bear hugged him when they stopped for a look at the scenic turn off at Otter Crest, a beautiful rain forest senic view on the coast.

Froggy felt really good vibes. But was worried that all of this was a dream. “Maybe, I’m in Heaven?” Froggy wondered…

Froggy was startled as they approached the bridge to the small fishing village of Depot Harbor…

“The Smallest Harbor in The World,” Algee Bear yelled out with excitement as they crossed the bridge into town. “Can I go swimming in the pond,” Froogy asked with a curious look.” “No, not today,” Algee Bear would say with a kind smile.

Froggy finally arrived at his new home in Depot Harbor. He loved being close to the waterfront. “Think I could hang out here?” Froggy croaked.” “Yes, but you need to stay on the sea wall and not the walkway,” Algee Bear warned him with a serious look.

A winter storm was raging with big waves splashing over the sea wall. Froggy loved the spray and wanted to jump out. “You’ll get blown away,” Algee Bear cautioned as they made a right turn on Collins Street.

His new foster parents, Cathy and Matt Biggs, lived up Collins Street, a block or so. It was across the street from “The Chowder Place n Brew Pub.”

The Chowder Place n Brew Pub is known for it’s secret chowder recipe, celebrated and sold coast to coast, south and north, all over America.

“Little Whale Cream Ale is my favorite brew,” Algee Bear remarked. But you’ll have to wait for that,” she added. Froggy looked at her and thought about root beer.

“Do they have root beer with ice cream,” Froogy asked with excitement and anticipation.

“The Chowder Place n Brew Pub is the best!” Algee Bear remarked as they they crossed the bridge into town. And a root beer float is a favorite too,” she further exclaimed.

Algee Bear also picked Depot Harbor for Froggy because he could attend the local middle school and after school programs in the same town. He would soon learn about school and make new friends.

Froggy couldn’t wait…

Cathy Biggs grew up in Depot Harbor. Her father, Mark Kramer, was a charter boat captain and owner of Kramer Charters.

Depot Harbor was a famous fishing village. Folks came from all over the globe to fish and enjoy the beauty of the Oregon Coast.

It was also the home of the US Coast Guard’s finest…

The Kramer family helped dredge the shallow harbor back in the day. The fishing fleet and tourist business was the town’s legacy.

“Some of the best ling cod, snapper, salmon and halibut come from the Central Oregon Coast: Depot Harbor is the go to spot,” Algee bear would say pointing her finger at the fishing boats in the tiny harbor.

Froggy still thought the ‘pond’ would be a good place to hang out. He wanted to learn more about the harbor, charter boats and go for a swim.

Cathy’s brothers Liam and Paul along with her pop, Mark, ran the charter business. Cathy managed all the financials. She was also Depot Harbor’s elected Mayor.

The Kramer family had a long tradition of community service. Cathy and Matt continued this legacy. But they could not have kids. Froogy would be their first child.

“Algee Bear told me a whole lot about Depot Harbor,” Froggy thought with appreciation while they pulled up to the house.”

Cathy and Matt welcomed Froggy with love and kindness he never felt before. Tears flowed from his eyes when Cathy hugged him first. Then, Matt…

“Matt was a cool dude too!” Froggy thought with love and hope shining through his wide wrinkled smile

Froggy instantly saw the beautiful Christmas tree, decorated with blinking red, white, and blue lights. There were presents wrapped with red bows that looked like 💕 hearts too.

Froggy also saw the baby Jesus with Joseph and Mary under the tree. The 3 wise men were watching as the baby Jesus was held closely by his mom, swaddled in cloth.

Froggy missed Santa a lot, but his new home felt like a dream come true. He knew Santa would return again next year like he does every year no matter what.

“Thank you! thank you!” Froggy screamed with joy. He was so happy to be home for Christmas.

Froggy never felt like this before, except with Santa, Algee Bear, and GI Joe Bear. “Maybe this would be home forever” Froggy thought with a big smile and grin.

Froggy was finally home. He hugged Algee Bear, and thanked her for saving his life. Algee Bear then left to celebrate Christmas with her family in Newport.

“Merry Christmas everybody!” Algee Bear waved as she drove off. This would not be last time Froggy would see Algee Bear.

This was just the beginning of a long friendship with “Froggy” The Christmas Spirit and Algee Bear.

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

See part 1 below…

Part 3 is in the works! Maybe a New Years celebration in Depot Harbor…

Have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Steve

Froggy, The Homeless Christmas Spirit, and “Algee Bear…”

“Froggy” The Homeless Christmas Spirit and “Algee Bear” www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org
Froogy’s Favorite Christmas Song… “Jingle Bells”
Froggy, “Algee Bear” and Simba… https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/

Nye Beach, Oregon… Christmas 2020

This is a story of the Spirit of Christmas…

Froggy came to know Santa as a kid lost. His family abandoned him to survive alone in the cold of winter on the beach. He was very hungry and scared.

Santa made a stop in Newport, Oregon on that Christmas in 2019 when Froggy was alone on the beach.

Froggy didn’t understand why his mama and pop would leave him behind.. “I was never hugged anyway,” Froggy thought, sadly… “Maybe they didn’t love me,” he thought with more sadness.

Without hesitation, Froggy jumped aboard Santa’s Reindeer Sled without notice. He jumped ever so carefully so not to get Santa’s attention.

Froggy found a safe spot and hid underneath some of the the presents. The presents left behind were headed back to Santa’sWorkshop for repair…

Santa didn’t see Froggy… But Rudolph did, with a wink, and a nod, then looked away.

Froggy fell in love with Rudolph’s bright red nose right away!

Santa returned to the North Pole after all the stops delivering gifts and treats to all the kids. Froggy wished he could be home for Christmas. “Maybe this is home?” He thought with tears of hope in his eyes.

When Santa arrived back to his North Pole home and work shop, Froggy appeared, looking cold, hungry, and afraid.

Santa, with a kind and warm smile, took Froggy in and made him his only official “Christmas Froggy.”

Mrs Clause and all of Santa’s family welcomed Froggy. Santa’s elves served up hot chocolate and peanut butter cookies. Froggy loved ❤ it. Mrs. Clause hugged Froggy with a warm embrace.

Froggy loved to be hugged after that. He hugged his new Christmas family everyday at the North Pole..

“Santa is my hero!” Froggy said often… tomlabelle.com
Santa and his elves…

Froggy loved ❤ hanging out with Santa, Ms. Clause, and all of Santa’s elves and helpers. Froggy hated the cold weather, though.

Froggy missed home in Newport, Oregon. He wanted to return to find his way back to friends and loved ones at the beach near the rain forest.

“Maybe, I could be adopted by a new family,” Froggy thought.

So that next Christmas while Santa made his regular stop in Nye Beach in Newport, Oregon, Froggy made his move.

Froggy, now annointed “Santa’s Christmas Frog,” jumped off Santa’s Sled while he delivered gifts to all the children in Nye Beach.

Rudolph looked back at Froggy, winked and looked away. They were kindred spirits.

Froggy was alone and very cold. He found a warm spot with another homeless young man, Joe, a veteran.

They got shelter underneath the Nye Beach Art Gallery covered walkway near the beach. There was a flat spot to sleep under the elevated ramp. He and Joe could stay warm in the sleeping bag together.

“Prime spot,” Joe would say, while guarding the entrance. Joe was a warrior.

It was warm compared to the North Pole, but still cold. Froggy got to know his new friend, Joe.

Joe served in Somalia as a warrior. His head was injured in a raid. He was shot up too and walked with much pain and difficulty.

Froggy and Joe traded stories, and were given food from the locals who looked out for the homeless.

Joe, loved Froggy’s Jingle Bells song. Froggy got tired of croaking all the time, but he knew Joe felt better when he sang Jingle Bells.

One day while Froggy was sitting with Joe, both hungry and scared, Algee Bear came by on her regular walk on the beach.

Algee Bear helped the homeless find shelter out of the cold of winter at the beach. Sometimes the wind and rain got the best of them. Algee Bear was kind and loving.

Newport, Oregon takes care of the homeless, especially during the coldest months of the year. Algee Bear is a member of Lincoln County’s volunteer peer support group assigned to Nye Beach.

If only there were more neighbors like Algee Bear in the world,” Joe would say.

Algee Bear was trained as a Mental Health First Aid USA peer support volunteer. She was also certified as a MH 1st Aid USA Trainer.

That night, Froggy and Joe found their way with Algee Bear’s help to a shelter with others who came in from the cold.

Froggy felt at home right away. Algee Bear was loving and kind. He felt safe. Froggy knew he had a chance to get back on his feet again.

“Algee Bear would see to that,” he thought. Froggy trusted Algee Bear. Joe got help from Algee Bear too. It seemed like folks cared about the homeless in Newport.

Froggy felt he was home, no longer scared and lonely. Joe felt the same.. They both talked with hope and joy for a better future.

Algee Bear helped Froggy find a new home with loving foster parents who took him in for good. He was sad to say good bye to his pal, Joe.

Algee Bear found Joe a veterans home in Lebanon, south of Portland. Joe would find a caring home and health care for his wounds from war.

Froggy was loved again and finally home…

“It was indeed a wonderful Christmas for Froggy and Joe. Thanks a bunch to Algee Bear and Newport, Oregon…

References:

Judy and Steve Sparks ❤
Steve and Judy Sparks

Vulnerable Citizens in Communities Everywhere Suffer in Silence While We Are Distracted by Politics and Divisiveness…


This is a loving homeless family living in Newport, Oregon.. Lincoln County cares. My neighbors, your neighbors, maybe loved ones. We look out after our friends and neighbors who need it the most. We work hard to give them hope for a new day. This is a popular spot for safe gatherings in Newport, Oregon in Lincoln County on the Central Coast.

Imagine

How does the current, and very concerning political environment the past 4 years in America threaten public safety and health, especially the most vulnerable citizens?

What does this vitriol and anger say to you?

These questions can only be answered from your soul, your moral compass, and your faith…not politics. The answers come from building friendships and bonds with your community by caring about each other.

Imagine the millions of most vulnerable American citizens dying on the steets of communiies everywhere because they don’t have access to “whole patient” health care like most of us?

I can tell you with this story of love told as ‘fiction’ based on true events from my personal and professional experiences…

I know of a case of a homeless veteran in Lincoln County Oregon in 2018. I was knee deep in doing consulting work at the time for the larger community in Lincoln County Oregon

The story begins with a young Marine vet who served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2002. This decent and patriotic man, named, Jake, served America in the early days of the Iraq invasion following 9/11.

Jake was a kid when when he experienced the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing of a federal building 25 years ago. From that moment on Jake wanted to serve America.

Jake dreamed being a US Marine, a warrior just like his Pop, a WWII hero who served in the Pacific for all of the war. He felt the passion and duty to protect his homeland and the free world. It was his time to serve, to step up, to join so many others who were disgusted and heartbroken from 9/11…

Military family legacy…

Jake’s father also served during Pearl Harbor, WWII, and Korean War. His pop was a highly decorated Master Chief Boatswain Mate (BMC) who was a hardened combat veteran, His father was also sick and his family was sick from all of the horrific truama. and for too long. Jake inhaled the pain from his profoundly dysfunctional childhood. But he became a strong warrior early in his life and learned how to survive and thrive.

Jake was injured physically and emotionally in Iraq right after the initial invasion while clearing the way for the American occupation. He experienced what most combat vets didn’t know or understand much about back then, let alone “Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”

Jake returns home to Oklahoma City in 2004…

Jake, a US Marine hero, returned home to Oklahoma City with little or no ‘warm handoff’ when transitioned out of the Marines. You know, “go in peace young man, you served your country with pride, we got your 6, get married, start a family.” It never worked out that way for Jake. His experience after returning home had no resembance to what he thought. No heroes welcome or a support group that seemed impossible for him to sort out anywary. TBI symptoms and PTSD was a dangerous mix as we all know well now in 2020. The VA health care system was just beginning to research TBI back then.

Help eluded Jake. He couldn’t comprehend on how to navigate the complicated VA health care system. Jake felt no one understood or show empathy for the constant pain and distress he was feeling, with little or no sleep, nightmares, guilt, never ending stuff. His family didn’t know what to do either,.

His father, mother, siblings and friends seemed to distance themselves. He did like to hang out in the old town with other homeless vets he could talk to and get high. Jake was around friends who loved him for who he was., brothers in arms. Friends who asked him what happened, not what is wrong. They told the stories of warriors and of healing, comraderie, and trust. And the love of brothers protecting each other. “I got your, six, bro!” Jake loved to play his mandolin and sing while hanging out with other homeless vets. His battle buddies sang with him and danced on the street.

Jake knew he was getting sicker. He blamed himself for this too. But he dreamed of better days. Jake wanted to move on. It was now or never, he thought.

Looking west for a new start…

Jake felt alone in Oklahome City. It didn’t feel like home anymore. His behavior was irractic and unstable. His family and friends appeared distant and didn’t want to be close to hime. Jake had a hard time articulating how he felt. He was disowned and left homeless on the streets the city he used to call home. So, Jake set out on the road for a new start, and hope for the future. Jake was a Marine, a warrior who served his nation. He never give up.

He stopped along the way in towns that touched his soul, tugged his heart. Jake was a survivor, a warrior. He dreamed of finding a community where people cared about each other, no matter what, or who you are. He wanted to be loved. He wanted a chance to get better and get to work. Maybe meet the right person and and start family, a dog and cat too.

Lincoln County Oregon 2017...

Jake, landed in Lincoln County Oregon a few years later after thumbing rides across America from Oklahoma City for what seemed like a never ending journey. He struggled to build a life until he ended his journey on the Oregon coast, like so many veterans who discovery the clean air and the beauty of this stunning coastal place he could only dream about before. He loved it from the very first moment walking along Nye Beach, in Newport, Oregon. He felt the souls of kindred spirits just like him. He didn’t feel alone anymore.

Jake’s health kept getting worse over time. He couldn’t get off drugs and alcohol. He loved his new home in Lincoln County. Jake found the home he dreamed of for so long. Newport, Oregon was a community that cared about all of us not just some of us. He was hugged, loved, and cared for as best as our community could provide with stretched resources. Jake tried hard… But his mind and body could not hold up anymore.

Jake was so sick, he was taken to the hospital emergency room more than 40 times during a 12 month period. Jake had VA benefits and a monthly stipend. But he wanted to live on the streets. He never became comfortable with treatment and recovery programs like some other friends he knew.

We find ourselves as a community of care givers helpless in the end when our citizens who suffer the most don’t make it. It’s a choice that some who suffer with TBI, PTSD, substance abuse, depression, severe anxiety, and worst case psychotic episodes, are unable to function on their own.

It’s still our duty to take care of the most vulnerable among us no matter what. We try to save lives everyday, but sometimes fail, but not in our hearts and souls. We keep trying and never give up. Just like Jake, we are warriors too.

Jake knew the community he called home loved him anyway. Hanging out on the street and the beach, close to community based peer support, shelter from the cold, and food when he was hungry got him through most days. Jake was loved and hugged, kept safe as possible.

A life cut short…

Jake, was an American hero, the son of a WWI hero, a father, a brother, a dear friend, a forgotten Marine warrior, who served America with pride and honor, and was awarded a Purple Heart. Jake, tragically, couldn’t get a decent continuum of care soon enough to save himself.

America failed Jake and his family. Jake was alone as a veteran then, and he is not alone in 2020. A patriot until the end, Jake was found one morning dead in the north end of the parking lot at PJ’s, the popular grocery store on the corner of 101`and hwy 20 where he came into town from a journey across America’s southwest. PJ’s welcomed the homeless, donating food and bottled water. Newport, Oregon was Jake’s America. Lincoln County is my America!

This heart breaking story happens all too often in America everywhere, in all 3000 counties across America. We can do better. We live with too many suicides because of the lack of access to health care services for the most vulnerable. Sadly, we know also that each day 22 veterans complete suicide. Communities everywhere are measured on how well we serve the most vulnerable members of our community. Sometimes we fall down on the job and it hurts. It hurts all of us… It hurts the hearts and souls of America.

I know my friends and colleagues feel the same way in Lincoln County Oregon as I do. How we take care of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities is a reflection of who we are as Americans… Good and decent souls with empathy, compassion, humanity and humility. We wouldn’t have it any other way, not ever…

This is my America! That’s why we love living in Lincoln County Oregon! My family’s home for 15 years now.

Lincoln County is not distracted from what is at the heart and soul of our community and America. I’m confident all 3000 counties in America aren’t distracted either.

Steve Sparks, US Navy vet, Author, Blogger; Member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee; Member, Trauma Informed Oregon (TIO) Steering Committee

Northwest Coastal Housing… Public private partnerships provide critical services to the most vulnerable citizens…

Yaquina Breezeyouth

Reflection with NWCH Executive Director

Sheila Stiley, Executive Director, Northwest Coastal Housing

I recently heard a few words that have caused me to pause and reflect.  Reflection on me as a person, our organization and those we serve.  We are a nonprofit organization…..there is a real definition, but in our world, it means a lot is expected on very minimal means.  So, what makes an nonprofit tick?

“Some of the best movements start with sorrow” (Luke Frechette).  That is how most nonprofits begin.  A grass roots organization started by a need, a desire, a burden.  A great sorrow that fills every fiber of a being.  Let’s face it, homelessness, poverty, widows and orphans, hunger, many things that have always been and could continue down the ages, yet, this sorrow to make a difference and impact for change overtakes us.  For us, that is building housing that is affordable for those who need a place to call home.  It is incorporating services into housing and calling it “Housing with a heart” so those less fortunate have opportunity for success.  How many of you came from this background?  If I am to be transparent and honest, I would say I did too.

When I look back over my childhood, I remember the good things (I have been told I am weird).  Our family goes back 7 generations here on the coast.  I am proud of the history and enrichment they provided to our community.  I remember living here at the beach, and spending summers with my grandmother on the farm.  I remember running, playing, laughing, learning, fishing, camping, youth group, hide-and-go-seek, and riding bikes.  But that was not my whole story.

Pictured: Sheila Stiley (on left), mother Sandy and younger sister Jenny

I am the child of a teen mom.  My father was 8 years older and fresh out of the military.  Both my parents came from dysfunctional families leading to alcoholism, drug use and domestic violence.  I spent many of my growing up years in a mobile home park where I made lifelong friendships in a rural community.  I remember being embarrassed when my mom bought all the turkey burger she could, filling a basket, because it was cheap and food stamps were a part of my everyday life.  I wore second hand clothes, was teased and bullied mercilessly in multiple schools, and worked side by side with my mom picking strawberries and garlic in the fields in order to get new clothes off layaway from K-Mart.  I remember when we spent a week in a domestic violence shelter, only to return to my father after he put my moms dog down.  I remember when my mom and I left again, only to be stalked for 3 years by my father and not seeing my younger sister during that time.  I remember everything…..

So, you see, I am just a normal person working a job, but I have this burden, this sorrow to make an impact.  Sure, maybe it stems from my upbringing, but one thing I do know.  This work in affordable housing development is needed.  It is challenging, it is difficult and it takes funding to do it.  That trailer park, that affordable housing, shaped me into who I am today.  One who is giving back and fighting for opportunities and successes for others.  So, I make no apologies when I say, we need your help.  Our organization is developing and preserving housing for the less fortunate and at risk populations, but our operations are beginning to dwindle substantially during this COVID-19 crisis.

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday.  Please, if you feel a burden, a sorrow to house those that are in need, please consider donating to our organization, Northwest Coastal Housing.  Together, we can make a difference, because everyone deserves a place to call home.

Click here to make a donation to Northwest Coastal Housing

"Learn to Love Others, Learn to be Free." Celebrating The Life of Chaz…

“Learn to love others, learn to be free.” Chaz

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/06/relucant-undertakers/563969/

Flowers rest near a grave marker that reads “Gone but not forgotten, these people of King County October 2017, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Renton, Wash., following a service for 180 people who died in the county, but whose families either could not be found or could not afford a burial. The service was organized by the King County Indigent Remains program and the King County Medical Examiner’s office. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

‘So moving and healing to my soul, a peaceful feeling came over me…’ This is a powerful story of hope. But it saddens me deeply. My heart and soul reminds me that all too often homeless men and women die in the streets way to early than the rest of us.

In the case of Chaz, he died on a cold lonely pavement of a parking lot. I was so taken by this loving tribute to the life of Chaz that keeping his story alive permanently in my archives seemed so appropriate and healing. I want to share Chaz’s story with a broader audience as ‘food for the soul’ for others to see and learn from.

Chaz lived the spirit life… Chaz, and many other brothers and sisters are loving members of our local community just like the rest of us. We are all the same…

I believe we should think about how to remember the homeless population in ways that reinforce programs like the Stepping Up Initiative, designed to help the most vulnerable folks among us find a healthier and sustainable lifestyle. Most importantly to stick around with us much longer to make a difference for others.

Chaz was a mentor, who provided peer support to others who struggled to find hope for a better future. Chaz is not here anymore, but his spirit survives and thrives… As a caring and loving community we should never forget Chaz… How we care for the most vulnerable citizens in our community is a reflection of who we are…

Steve and Judy Sparks, Depoe Bay, Oregon. Click here for Steve’s author page.

Lincoln County Oregon Builds a Collaborative Community…Transforming Health Care to a Patient Centered Model…

Lincoln County Commissioner, Claire Hall, a close friend and colleague, asked me to come in for a visit in May of 2016 after she attended a National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Washington D.C. At that moment the Stepping Up Initiative was hatched in Claire’s office, and the rest is history. Commissioner Hall hired me as project consultant, and recruited newly installed Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers to join the project leadership team. It is within this leadership structure and steadfast commitment that we began paving the way for the amazing transformation we have experienced as a community in the last three (3) years, including a ready and willing community of partners and stakeholders. As a community we had reached a critical point in 2016 when we had to change or be left behind as a rural County of close to 50,000 citizens. We were running out of time…

Lincoln County Commissioners, Kaety Jacobson, Claire Hall, and Doug Hunt

On October 5, 2016 Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners (BOC) passed a resolution to make Stepping Up Initiative a top priority for leading Lincoln County into a 21st Century transformative health care delivery system; especially for the most vulnerable citizens, including our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, who are so often left behind in the streets as homeless, and all too often suffer from mental illness, and addiction. We then set out to navigate the County through an exciting and challenging period of change and breaking down barriers. As a community we were too siloed stuck in place for far too long. We had limited collaborations and partnerships which denied the community of diversified funding opportunities. Lincoln County Sheriff, Curtis Landers stepped up immediately to help lead with a smart on crime approach of diverting vulnerable individuals from the County Jail and hospital emergency services to community based treatment and recovery upstream services…a continuum of care.

Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers

The culmination of this awesome community building effort was represented in full force last Friday, September 13th. With a full moon and the stars aligned we met for the 3rd year as a leadership team of partners and stakeholders to review progress and continue to close the gaps and solidify Stepping Up Initiative as the new community based culture of collaboration. Hosted by Oregon Center on Behavioral Health & Justice Integration, the workshop goals are focused on this broader theme…

“Mental health and criminal justice systems often collide, creating significant barriers to treatment and support services. Sequential Intercept Mapping & Taking Action for Change helps develop and implement plans for community change through cross-system collaboration. This workshop enhances practices and facilitates organizational change utilizing innovative and dynamic tools to map systems, identify gaps in service, and clarify community resources.”

Goals

  • Further the delivery of appropriate services to people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system
  • Assist in identifying gaps in service
  • Optimize use of local resources

Topics and Activities

This program is customized to the very specific needs and desired outcomes of our community.

  • Cross-Systems Mapping
  • Identifying Resources and Gaps in Service
  • Setting Community Priorities
  • Developing an Action Plan to Implement Change

As a long time citizen of Lincoln County and Depoe Bay, Oregon, I’m so very honored and proud to have been part of this unprecedented community building effort in our coastal community. Lincoln County now leads in the State of Oregon and across the nation as a transformative rural community. We can be proud as a community of the excellent leadership and commitment from Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff for their steadfast leadership commitment…and innovative spirit. We succeeded in becoming an empowered community of partners and stakeholders…and there is no turning back the clock. We are more than ready for the next generation of Stepping Up Initiative…2.0.

Steve Sparks, Project Consultant, Stepping Up Initiative, Lincoln County Oregon and Resident Cheer Leader

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

Ask What Happened, Not What is Wrong!

I spent the first 6 decades of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and everything else in my life.  When I finally started learning about post trauma stress (PTS) and trauma informed care, it was clear that empathy and compassion were possible once we changed the conversation to “what happened” not “what is wrong.”  This seemingly basic concept allowed me to begin my own journey of healing in 2011 at age 64.  Everytime I talk to a person suffering from PTSD, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health challenges, I try to find out what happened, not what is wrong.  Once we change the conversation to what happened, the talk shifts immediately to a greater mutual understanding of the roots of the emotional struggles of your friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are suffering from a past traumatic life event. Imagine a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the terrible violence of war. Think about a child who suffers from persistent and pervasive emotional and physical abuse in a profoundly dysfunctional home. In all these circumstances of severe trauma, we know now that the human brain is rewired, the brain chemistry changes and adapts to extreme survival circumstances and danger to life in war or at home living in fear.   Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer for a lifetime. The emotional baggage of war, the violence and carnage, losing a buddy, seeing little children dead in the streets as collateral damage is too much for a once healthy mind to process and get past once home to resume life as a typical citizen. It is far worse to see traumatized children grow up with serious mental illness, including PTSD and life long major depression, that must be treated for a lifetime. It is heartbreaking to know that too many people of all ages resort to suicide or overdose on opioids because there is no hope and the emotional pain is too horrific to live with.

The life long journey of healing takes a highly disciplined personal effort of awareness of one’s own symptoms and strong support from family, close friends and a sustainable clinical and community based peer support treatment/recovery plan. Even so, the 24/7 intrusive thoughts and emotional pain stick for a lifetime for those of us who suffer from a major depressive disorder. I feel lucky to have a strong support system in these later years of my life. There are too many people in my community suffering from mental illness, including co-occuring alcohol and drug addiction, who are not as lucky. We see it in communities everywhere, the homeless and most vulnerable citizens who live among us. The way we treat the most vulnerable population in our community is a direct reflection of who we are, a loving community with great empathy and compassion.

So, with much empathy and compassion, reach out to the most vulnerable members of your community with kindness and love. Listen to them and help them find a safe place to begin living a healthy and happy quality of life.

Steve Sparks

click here for my author page…

Plight of Homeless Military Children…A Testimonial by Jenny Green, Depoe Bay, Oregon

Jenny Green, Age 9

Photo by Captain Hopes Kids…

My Experience as a Former Military Child Who Became Homeless… by Jenny Green

Close to a year ago, little did I know that I would befriend someone who shares somewhat similar experiences from childhood as me.  Although these experiences are generations apart, they are rooted from the same source…both our fathers experienced PTSD from war.  My friend Steve’s father suffered PTSD from WWII and Korean War, while my father suffers PTSD from Vietnam. I am glad I am friends with Steve; he helped me to realize that I am not the only one out there with effects from a family members fight with this dilemma. Now I know that I am not my own little island in the sea of humanity, there are many of us islands.I was fortunate enough as a child to live in Italy and Germany as a military brat. Dad was active duty and a Vietnam vet with USMC and later enlisted with the U.S. Army. What I didn’t realize then, was that he had PTSD. When he would yell, scream, and smack me around I thought it was normal, in fact, to me it was a simple fact of life. What I also didn’t realize, was how my Dad’s PTSD affected my Mom as well. She would go to work early, come home late, and work many weekends for the Stars and Strips Newspaper; staying away from Dad as much as possible. I did not know my mother, and she did not know me, and the only thing I knew of my Dad was the abuse and anger he had towards me.That was my life ’till I was almost 10 years old, then the apple cart was turned upside down, we moved back from overseas.  Dad divorced Mom about a year and a half after we returned leaving us in southern Indiana, and Dad left for good to Michigan. Once Mom realized he was never coming back, the monster she had harbored came out with a vengeance, secondary PTSD.When Dad left, I was lucky enough to be at my Grandmother’s house, as she took us in for six months. Mom slept 14 to 18 hours a day, only getting up to go to use the bathroom, and then back to bed to either sleep or lie there and cry. Finally my Grandmother had enough of us being in her house and forced my Mom and I out, leaving us at a public housing office. After a few nights in a shelter, we were placed in a small public housing apartment called, “White Court” in New Albany, In.I thought this move was going to help give my Mom momentum with having a fresh start; indeed this was not the case, her PTSD got worse. I had to wear the same pair of socks for 8 months; they smelled like ammonia, were caked with filth and were literally plastered to my feet. When I had shoes, I walked out of them at the toes and wear them for months in that condition. My jeans and t-shirt were stained with wearing them for weeks straight day and night, as I did not have night pajamas. There was no washer and dryer, no laundry mat in walking distance, and she would not buy soap or a bucket to wash clothes.                            There was never any food in the house, and if there was something in the fridge it was usually what someone was tossing out because it was spoiling. I was at least lucky to have free lunch from my elementary school, so I knew I could have a meal once a day during the school year. I relied on that food, as it was literally all I had in my life. I hated summers because I would miss out on the lunches from school and would scrap together meager meals of stale hamburger buns and souring bologna, bologna so soured that there was a white pasty film on it that I would scrap off.It was during one of these summers when I was 12 about to be 13 and had to attend summer school, that Mom closed the door to me. It was my last day of elementary school, when I got home all the doors and windows were locked and Mom was not answering. I sat on the porch till 10pm wondering what had happened, asking neighbors if they had seen anyone at the apartment, nothing. I went to a 5th grade friend’s house, but her family did not want anything to do with stained clothed, ammonia smelling kid; they told me to leave and not return. Under the glow of the dim street light I slept on the porch that night.  The next morning I walked downtown to the amphitheater next to the Ohio River. I would sleep in and around this amphitheater for the next three months. Summer school did not serve lunch, so at night for food I would dig in the dumpsters of the local restaurants after they had closed. I remember eating half eaten fried chicken legs, macaroni salad with my fingers, licking pie filling off of paper plates, and using old napkins with lipstick stains smeared on them.  I remember being afraid to sleep outside at night; so I would walk around town, watch the trains, or sit and listen to the coal barges and tugs going up and down the Ohio River till dawn. I was also afraid of the local law enforcement, as I was scared of getting in trouble for being homeless and filthy. I did not know at the time that they would actually have helped me. I kept going home every other day and knocking on the door and no one ever answered, even though I could see the mail was picked up and curtains were moved.The day 7th grade started, again I went back home and knocked on the door. To my surprise my mom answered the door. Dark circles under her eyes, dirty clothes, and matted hair is how she greeted me. I asked where she had been, and all she could say was that she had been busy. I told her 7th grade started today and I need her to go register me for school at the junior high, she agreed and we walked to school. I walk in the office with the same jeans, t-shirt, socks, and shoes I had been wearing for four months since the end of April, as people are staring at us I get registered for school and receive my class schedule. Second period was pre-algebra, and I hated math but I did not know that my life was about to change. I met my best friend Tracy, she didn’t care what I looked like or smelled like. In fact, later in the school year her Mom and Dad invited me over to their house as often as I wanted. They fed me, washed my clothes, and let me shower. By 8th grade I was living in their house. Mom still had custody of me but she allowed for my move. I was in their household ’till just after high school graduation with a 3.75 GPA, college bound, clean clothes and good food.  Someone had finally given me a chance to survive, and I thrived… 

*****  

Jenny’s testimonial was first published in January 2014. Thank you Jenny for all you do for our community! We are kindred spirits!

Your friend always,

Steve Sparks

Empathy and Compassion….We need to think about what happened not what is wrong!

A Humvee doesn’t offer much protection for combat soldiers who are at risk of an IED explosion.

Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon

by Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon

I want to tell you about a young man whose story touches so many things that are important to me–honoring veterans, helping the homeless, treating addictions. He’s a Lincoln County native who came from the most loving, supportive family you could imagine. Did well in school. Honorably served in Afghanistan. He was riding in a Humvee like this that ran over an IED that went off. Complained of back pain. Was given opioid pain killers and sent home. Months later, when the pain persisted, the VA finally did an MRI and found he had a fractured back. Cut off his pain meds. He had a live-in companion, a child, a home, a responsible job. He turned to heroin to deal with the ongoing pain and lost companion, child, home and job. Ended up running afoul of the law and making the news. I saw many horrible comments about him here on Facebook. Ignorant, judgmental people. There’s a ray of hope now. He’s in treatment and so far, so good, but he faces a long road. We have to stop criminalizing addictions, people. We have to start honoring veterans by doing more than just spouting slogans and waving the flag. We have to become a more just and caring society. I know, I’m a dreamer. But if I stop dreaming, I’ll lose hope.

#####

I spent the first 6 decades of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and everything else in my life.  When I finally started learning about post trauma stress (PTS) and trauma informed care, it was clear that empathy and compassion were possible once we changed the conversation to “what happened” not “what is wrong.”  This seemingly basic concept allowed me to begin my own journey of healing in 2011 at age 64.  Everytime I talk to a person suffering from PTSD, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health challenges, I try to find out what happened, not what is wrong.  Once we change the conversation to what happened, the talk shifts immediately to a greater mutual understanding of the roots of the emotional struggles of your friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are suffering from a past traumatic life event. In the story above, we are talking about a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the horrific violence of war.  The explosion from an IED can also cause traumatic brain injury, a compounded physical injury that affects a persons ability to process stressful circumstances.  We know now that the human brain is rewired, the chemistry changes to adapt to extreme survival circumstances that combat veterans experience in extended deployments on the battlefield.  Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer terribly, often 24/7 with the emotional baggage of war, the violence and carnage, losing a buddy, seeing little children dead in the streets as collateral damage is too much for a once healthy mind to process and get past once home to resume life as a typical citizen.

I hope Bill Hall’s story and my comments help others to empathize with all veterans who come home after serviing America in wars we start and often never finish. We citizens send young men and women to war, afterall.  The war comes home to the dinner table and the community where it is often extremely difficult for veterans to readjust to a typical life as a member of our society.  Be kind, be loving, listen and learn, then guide your dear friend and loved one to a path of healing.  We know how to help in the 21st Century.  There was a time decades ago when sons, daughters, fathers and mothers came home from war and we had no idea what they were experiencing emotionally, and didn’t know what to do.  There are no more excuses for ignorance, no more excuses for a lack of empathy and compassion!

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, Mental Health Champion

click here for my author page…