Poverty. The word brings to mind many things for many people. Often it brings to mind mess and trash – both in the literal sense, but also in terms of how people are viewed. Poverty is destructive to lives and societies – and very costly. Not just in terms of dollars, but way beyond that.
Which is why alleviating poverty is so important. Yet, we have been trying to alleviate poverty for so long that no one remembers when we started. And we’ve had varying degrees of success. Although right now it seems as though we are struggling with alleviating poverty. We don’t have current stats – only data from 2015 and earlier (You can see that here). However, basing it on observation, conversations, and a whole lot of non-scientific data, I’m willing to wager that poverty is on the rise in the US in recent times. One of the things that I’m basing this on is the fact that there is a lack of emergency housing in the region of the country I reside in. There are waiting lists and have been for a few months now. That’s not a good indicator.
Often we look to the government for solutions to our problems. Or some will say, never mind the government, the churches and non-profits should do it. The problem with this is that it’s an all or nothing approach – and it doesn’t work. Alleviating poverty has to be a multiple faceted approach incorporating many different elements – because there are many aspects to poverty that need to be addressed.
One of the challenges to alleviating poverty is agreeing on what poverty is. Yes, there is the official definitions – but those focus entirely on the material needs that people have. If poverty were entirely material, then we would have solved it long ago. We’ve spent more money on trying to alleviate poverty through material means than anyone thought possible. It would have been cheaper to just transfer wealth directly from the rich to the poor and be done with it. Except a transfer of wealth, on its own, just doesn’t work.
That’s because if you only deal with the material, you’ll never actually alleviate poverty. I received a call from a person who had an eviction notice. The person needed $500 to stay in their home. When we talked with the owner of the property, we discovered that the person had resided at the property for 44 months and was late with their rent 17 times. Giving this person money to stop the eviction wouldn’t have changed anything for this person ultimately. It would have bought them more time and it would have dealt with the material need, but it wouldn’t have alleviated poverty in any real way. in fact, we would have been enabling this person to continue to see being late on rent as normal with no need to change.
Could we have done something different – probably, but only so far as someone wants to change and improve their life. You can’t force change to happen on people.
We live in a political climate right now where one political party is attempting to recreate the Know Nothing Party of the 1850’s and the other party is stuck in the New Deal of the 1940’s. That’s not leadership, and it doesn’t bode well for people who actually want to escape poverty.
There are fresh ideas out there, but it’s hard to get any spotlight when all the air in the room is used up to cover what our politicians say and think and tweet 24 hours a day – as if Washington DC were the center of the universe. It isn’t and here’s the reality – new ideas don’t come out of Washington, DC. The state of the two political parties should be evidence enough of that reality.
If we are going alleviate poverty, then we need to think differently about it and act differently too. We need to take a look at poverty in a given context and not make an assumption that poverty looks the same everywhere. We need to build partnerships between government, leaders, non-profits, churches, and communities – so that we can work together to touch the many different aspects of poverty. We need to see people in poverty as people, not as statistics. We need to look at long-term commitments from those in poverty and those who are helping. We need to look beyond the material to see poverty as more than just the lack of money or stuff – it is spiritual, it is mental, it is emotional. Let’s move past the ideas of the past and towards new ideas.