Rural Homelessness Is Real on the Mid-Shore

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Homelessness is real on the Mid-Shore. As we sit snugly in our homes this winter, there is another population not quite so fortunate who might be “couch surfing” with family or friends, sleeping in cars, or even living in makeshift tents on the outskirts of our towns.

According to Julie Lowe, Executive Director of Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS), “Rurally, homelessness looks very different than in urban areas. Here on the Mid Shore, it can go unnoticed because it doesn’t look like the people we may see with signs asking for money on the streets in our cities.”

Lowe goes on to explain that many people hear the word “homeless” and it strikes fear in their hearts as they think of urban stories about people being robbed or hurt by people in the cities which might have mental illness or substance abuse. She adds that the reality in rural areas is that more of the people who become homeless have fallen on bad luck – lost jobs, illness, accidents, or divorce or changing family status.

Lowe adds, “The people who are homeless on the Mid Shore can go unnoticed because they want to be unnoticed. There is a stigma attached to homelessness. People judge you because they don’t understand how your situation happened.” She adds, “Many of these people are trying to piece it all together themselves and don’t want people to know their struggles. It is often a crisis, like cold weather, that has them coming to the doors of our shelters.”

Haven Ministries - New Space Sleeping

Haven Ministries – New Space Sleeping

Krista Pettit, executive director of Haven Ministries of Queen Anne’s County, adds that it is difficult to know the true number of homeless individuals on the Shore because the population is dispersed in a rural area. Funding for homeless programs are greater in the metropolitan areas where the numbers are more concentrated. According to Pettit and Lowe, because funding is limited in rural areas, partnerships with community organizations are crucial to meeting the needs, in particular, the role of the church community in meeting the needs.

Lowe adds, “The church model is how the Shore originally dealt with the homeless population in the winter months. Through a rotating seasonal shelter, communities were able to offer shelter in the evenings for people in need in area churches.”

Talbot Interfaith Shelter was a rotating church model for six years, rotating during the winter season between seven to 10 churches and the Synagogue, before finding a permanent shelter location in Easton two years ago. Haven Ministries Shelter has also operated as a church model for the past 12 years, utilizing Kent Island United Methodist Church in Stevensville as its seasonal shelter location. Both TIS and Haven Ministries still utilize churches to provide funding, meals, and volunteers to help run their shelters.

Lowe comments, “There seems to be more acceptance of the church model and more stigma associated with a permanent shelter.”

Pettit adds, “Churches are shelters for the shelter.”

Both Lowe and Pettit agree that the neighborly feeling in rural areas contributes to the communities taking care of their own. Many people have grown up volunteering in the church shelter model, but as a new generation comes of age, many have never had the experience.

Pettit adds, “There is now need to educate the next generation about how they can volunteer and help with this issue.”

The issue today with homelessness can be complex. According to Lowe and Pettit, people don’t realize how hard it is for people with children to get jobs because of the issues around child care in our rural areas. Other issues involve the availability of mental health treatment/counseling, and getting proper documentation (birth certificates, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses). With the Shore’s immigrant population, there can also be language barriers and an insular community to contend with.

Jeanine Beasley, Continuum of Care Manager at Shore Behavioral Health, the core service agency for behavioral health in the five counties on the Mid Shore, comments, “Like most rural areas, there are limited resources to deal with the issues surrounding homelessness. In the area of mental health treatment/counseling, it can take a while to be seen by a mental health provider. Talbot Interfaith Shelter and Haven Ministries both have partnerships with area outpatient mental health providers – For All Seasons and Corsica River Mental Health – which can help address these issues more quickly.”

In addition to mental health issues, Beasley points to the lack of affordable housing and sustainable employment as other issues facing our communities today. She adds, “There is a lack of awareness about this issue on the Mid Shore. Most people don’t understand the reasons people find themselves in these difficult situations. Not everyone has a safety net of family and friends to help them when a crisis happens. Both TIS and Haven Ministries are trying to help their clients build that safety net to help them get back on their feet.”

Pettit states, “Year to year, the age of clients in our shelter can vary. Because you have to be 18 or older to stay alone in a shelter, there are issues with youth homelessness in our county. We are now exploring ways to address this.” She adds, “There are also issues with the elderly due to financial and health issues, being disconnected from family, and having no support systems.”

The goal of both TIS and Haven Ministries is to get shelter clients stabilized through case management services so that their clients can transition into housing of their own. Both communities face challenges in finding affordable transitional housing. Talbot Interfaith Shelter partners with the Housing Commission of Talbot to provide apartments to their families transitioning into their own housing.

According to Carlene Phoenix, Deputy Director of the Housing Commission of Talbot, “Although Talbot County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state of Maryland, we need more affordable housing units for our workforce. Specifically, we need more income-based units for our minimum wage earners.”

Phoenix explains that although The Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly Section 8 Program) can help provide rental assistance for housing for eligible families, the program’s federal funding is not at a level to meet the needs in Talbot County.

Until some of these changes occur, individuals and families on the Mid Shore face the reality of quietly piecing together resources to meet their changing needs when crisis happens – often going unnoticed in our communities.

For information about how you can help with rural homelessness by volunteering, partnering, or donating to either Talbot Interfaith Shelter in Talbot County or Haven Ministries in Queen Anne’s County, call Julie Lowe (TIS) at 410-310-2316 or Krista Pettit (Haven Ministries) at 410-739-4363.

Inside the Sandwich: A Glimpse Inside Aging by Amelia Blades Steward

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A few weeks ago, I underwent cataract surgery – not something common for 57-year olds. The success of the surgery, however, far outweighed the injury to my pride in having a surgery more common in 80-year olds. I can now see and that’s amazing!

This experience really gave me insight into the aging process and some of the assumptions we all make about people based on their age, their disabilities, their experiences, and even the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Finding myself in the operating room among the 11 other patients having cataract surgery that day, I found some people approached me, as they do most elderly people, with a raised voice. I didn’t realize that cataracts affected my hearing too! Although my vision was less than 20/20, my hearing hadn’t deteriorated. My husband chuckled as people spoke to me with raised voices as they did to most of the other patients in the surgical bay.

As I reflected after the surgery on my experience, I began to think that when we meet people in life, maybe we need to make fewer assumptions about each another overall. We could actually ask questions like “Can you hear me well enough?” “Can you see what I am giving you?” “Do you need help getting up or down?” “Do you understand what I am telling you?” Simple questions such as these could help us all better navigate the unexpected places in which we find ourselves interacting with people who we do not know.

My mother always says to me that mentally she feels 18, even though her body is changing every day. I got a glimpse into this as I faced some of my own limitations this week. I look in the mirror and don’t see the 18-year old any more.

There are more wrinkles, more aging spots, and darker circles than were there when I was 18 years old. I am bewildered – how did I get here? Where did the years go?

I still have the surgery in the other eye to look forward to. The humor of all this was when my twenty-somethings got wind of the cataract surgery, they couldn’t wait for the picture of me with the large dark sunglasses they give cataract patients, so they could get a chuckle. The glasses reminded me of the Atom Ant cartoon I watched in the 1960s. Honestly, couldn’t we get more fashionable glasses so our kids don’t put our photos on Facebook for the whole world to see? I certainly hope by my next surgery they will have figured that one out!

Inside the Sandwich: Downsizing and Keeping the Memories by Amelia Blades Steward

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A new year! More resolutions! And more stuff!

Over the last month, I have been downsizing my mom’s home since the passing of my father. This month, my mother left her sprawling brick rancher to move into a compact townhouse, half the size of her previous home. She has started the process of simplifying her life to approach her aging years. As the children and grandchildren walked through the memories at the old house during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we discovered treasures that my parents had stashed away – maybe one day for us to find and ogle.

Our finds included my dad’s Argus camera from when he served as a surveyor in the Army in Alaska, his business plane ticket and invitation to the Ambassador of Ireland’s residence in the late 1960s, and the most amazing thing – Neil Armstrong’s autograph before he landed on the Moon in 1969 (we don’t know how my dad got that!). There were Life Magazines talking about Kennedy’s death and yellowed, brittle newspapers announcing the moon landings, Lady Diana’s wedding and death, and the tragedies of 911. My brother and I, who grew up in the 1960s, we were able to reminisce about where we were and what we were doing during each of these landmark moments. It was a bonding experience for both of us and fun to share them with our own children.

Savoring the memorabilia was the fun part of the downsizing process. Next came the culling process – scrutinizing the family china, crystal, silver, and formal housewares that my parents had accumulated over their 57 years of marriage. This was the difficult part of downsizing. The questions were the same – who needed another set of china, who even used crystal anymore, what was that item even used for anyway, and finally, where are we going to put this in our own homes? The grandchildren were born in an IKEA and Pottery Barn age and had little interest in the family heirlooms. I recently read an article in the Washington Post about passing along family heirlooms which explored the issue that many Millennials don’t even cook anymore, let alone eat on china.

We were able to find homes for a few of the heirlooms among the family members, but a large amount of the china, crystal and silver went to be sold in the local consignment store and thrift shop or was sold to antique dealers. I watched as my mother said good-bye to some of her favorite things. She was strong and determined as she let go of item after item, knowing that most of them would not fit into the next chapter of her life. I was so proud that she could take these steps. She is much stronger than I am right now when it comes to getting rid of “stuff.”

This fall, I read both Spark Joy and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo in preparation for these days. As I have reached my 50s, I am feeling the need to purge the things that no longer bring me joy and which are cluttering my own home and life. I think Kondo’s statement, “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective.” I am taking a lesson from my mother and starting with my own home this month. We rented a small storage unit in December while the Christmas boxes merged with my mother’s moving boxes and on weekends we go and sort and purge the things from our attic and closets. Of course, this was incited by my two twenty-something sons, who told me as I was moving my mom, that they were just going to take all our “stuff” and have a bonfire in their backyard when we moved next, instead of going through it all as we had so painstakingly done with my mother.

Throughout this process, before I let items go that no longer serve me in my life, however, I am taking photographs and journaling about them. We did the same thing in my mom’s house, so she now has a record of the life she and my dad built together. I am realizing that the things we collect are just that – “things.” What is important about them are the memories we form because of them.

In her parting remarks in her book, Spark Joy, Marie Kondo’s states, “Our things form a part of us, and when they’re gone, they leave behind them eternal memories.”
I have realized that the memories linger and so do we as we close the lid on each box.
Amelia Blades Steward is founder of Steward Writing and Communications, a public relations firm in Easton, MD. Her company focuses on copy writing, editing services, and communications plans for nonprofit and for profit companies, small businesses, and local governments. She has written nonfiction articles for national, regional, and local publications for over 33 years. A lifelong storyteller, Steward published her first book in the spring of 2014, a memoir which she co-authored with Charles H. Thornton, entitled “Charles H. Thornton: A Life of Elegant Solutions.”

Inside the Sandwich: Act Like You Have Been in the End-Zone Before By Amelia Blades Steward

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I should have known this week when I wore my “Ho, Ho, Ho” pin upside down and it said “Oh, Oh, Oh” that it would be the start to a challenging few weeks. My client noticed my pin was skewed when we were meeting to discuss a challenging project. She wondered if I had done it on purpose. I answered that it was because I had looked in the mirror that morning and it had looked alright. I guess I forgot that things are backwards when viewed in the mirror.

Things have just been weird this holiday season. My mom and I went on a bus trip to NYC and encountered Santas in all shapes and forms while navigating the crowds on 51st Street and Fifth Avenue. Just as we thought we would be carried down Fifth Avenue with the crowds seeking the lighted Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, we encountered the craziest sight – a man dressed as Herman Munster in a Santa suit who bolted out of the crowd with his large metal lunchbox. The man next to me laughed along with me, stating he must be a “Frankensanta.” I learned afterwards that Santacon was being held in NYC the day, a non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and nonsensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year in cities all over the country.

The fun continued when my entire family traveled to Richmond, VA, to have a gathering with my brother and his family. We were invited to a party in my brother’s historic neighborhood while we were there. Getting three generations ready to go to this upscale soiree was more than a notion. We all got dressed for the occasion, including the four young adults, who donned shirts and ties and holiday dresses, instead of flip flops and shorts (their usual attire). The older adults helped the grandparents travel down the brick sidewalks to the historic home. My sister-in-law, who had told me only hours before we didn’t need to bring anything to the party, was balancing an old Rubbermaid pitcher of champagne punch, as we bobbed down the street. The hosts had requested her special recipe.

In some ways, it felt like the Beverly Hillbillies arriving in Hollywood – a menagerie of family members with different ideas of what was ahead of us for the evening. Would the teens eat the fancy hors d’oeuvres, would the grandparents have anything in common with the young owners, and would we fit in at this fancy affair? My brother stopped the 10 of us at the base of the steps to the historic house before we entered to say, “Act like you have been in the end-zone before.” I guess he was worried we would embarrass him with his upscale neighbors. I wondered whether this night would be even more ludicrous than my upside down Ho, Ho, Ho pin, the Herman Munster Santa in NYC, and all the other craziness this year’s holidays have brought.

There is a lot of pressure over the holidays. I will sure be glad when it’s over and we no longer have to “act like we have been in the end-zone before.” We can go back to being ourselves and doing things imperfectly with our families.

Inside the Sandwich: The Empty Seats at the Table By Amelia Blades Steward

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Ah, the holidays! Just when I thought things were getting easier – no more racing to the store on Black Friday to get the latest toy – remember Furby toys and Nintendo Game Boys? Instead, as a mother of a college student and young adult, I now have to figure out how to get quality time with my kids over the holidays – sharing them with work, friends, girlfriends and their myriad of social activities. When they were young, I never had to worry about whether I would eat Thanksgiving turkey with my children, but instead stewed over whether they would have good table manners around my relatives and whether I could keep them calm as the Christmas decorations came out of the attic that weekend.

I remember the week before Thanksgiving several years ago when my oldest son called to inform me that he may not have time for all of the family gatherings planned for the upcoming holiday weekend. I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew he was overwhelmed with numerous college papers and exams (and probably sleep deprived), but I didn’t think we had come to that time of life where we may not eat Thanksgiving dinner together. I wondered if this was going to be the beginning of new traditions for our family? And, who was going to tell my mother that my son may not be at Thanksgiving dinner? I promptly told him, it would not be me.

As I contemplated his words, I took the advice of a wise friend, took a deep breath and tried not to react. I talked to my son about how much it would mean to all the relatives to have him at the various family dinners. I explained how much they all looked forward to seeing him again since he had been away to college. None of my responses swayed his thoughts. Finally, I decided to get to tell him the reason I wanted him there and ended the phone conversation by saying, “Really, what is most important is for me to spend time with you this weekend.” He answered on the other end, “Why didn’t you just say so, Mom?”

I continue to learn from my children. Although some days seem like they are slipping away from me (and I know they are), I learned from my son that holiday that they still want to know we love them and want to spend time with them. The result that particular Thanksgiving was that my son did attend all of the Thanksgiving dinners (even making a dish of his own to contribute). We all even enjoyed going to the movies together one night – just the four of us.

This year, I am faced with my youngest son being away at college in Ireland. There will be empty spaces at the table this year for him and for my dad, who recently passed away. Change is inevitable and our family traditions can’t live on forever as children grow up and relatives pass away. I am grateful, however, for the years we all sat together and gave thanks for family and the bountiful table. Those memories continue to live on in my heart this year even with empty seats at the table.

Inside the Sandwich: Returning to the Tree to Rest by Amelia Blades Steward

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Editor’s note: This ongoing column for the Spy Senior Nation portal reflects on the life of being in the Sandwich Generation. Amelia Blades Steward is a 56-year old mother, trying to raise two young adults, while caring for an aging mother and father-in-law, and working full-time. Even with the challenges these roles sometimes present, she tries to find peace and balance in my days. Through laughter, tears and reflection, Amelia attempts to juggle all the balls, but more often than not, she admits she drop a few – buy lived to tell the stories and some days, that is enough.

My friends and I often talk about being in the “Sandwich Generation” – spending time taking care of our teenagers and young adults while also caring for our aging parents. I started thinking about how powerful the message is in the book, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. If you remember the story, it chronicles the relationship between a boy, who becomes a man, and his favorite tree. The boy loved the tree, but as he became a man he depleted the tree of all it had, needing the tree less and less as he pursued happiness. Not until he had aged himself, did he return to the tree to rest.

This week, I felt the effects of being in the Sandwich Generation. I found myself listening to the challenges my college junior is having with his semester abroad, while helping my recently widowed mother sell her house and find a new home for the next chapter of her life. The challenge was juggling all this with work deadlines, civic responsibilities, a husband who travels for work, and of course cleaning up a water leak in our house which happened while we were away. I was reminded in the chaos of the week to just slow down and be present in what was happening. There were blessings in it for me.

Much to my surprise, the message was reinforced further at the end of the week when a tree company visited my home to talk about tending the old trees on our property. As I reflected on the week’s challenges, I realized Silverstein’s message about trees couldn’t be any clearer. As children we experience the unconditional love of our parents, much like the unconditional love of Shel Silvertstein’s tree. As adults, we are then asked to return the love we received as children to our parents as they age. Sometimes it is just a matter of sitting and listening – taking in the details of who they are, how they think, and hearing them reminiscing about their lives. Other times, it is being reassuring during a major life change. The dreams they dreamed as youth become the histories and legacies they leave for us and for our children – and all of this is for us to relish now, not after they are gone.

So, the next time I feel harried by being part of the Sandwich Generation, I will remember Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” and when the tree said to the boy who had returned as a tired old man, “’Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the Boy did. And the tree was happy.”

Amelia Blades Steward is founder of Steward Writing and Communications, a public relations firm in Easton, MD. Her company focuses on copy writing, editing services, and communications plans for non-profit and for profit companies, small businesses, and local governments. She has written nonfiction articles for national, regional, and local publications for over 33 years. A lifelong storyteller, Steward published her first book in the spring of 2014, a memoir which she co-authored with Charles H. Thornton, entitled “Charles H. Thornton: A Life of Elegant Solutions.”