War on Poverty
I’ve got a little education under my belt. I’m pretty well read. I can interpret statistics with the best of them. But knowing and
living with poor people is the only real way to see how the path out of poverty and joblessness should be trod. And when I go to foundations and commissions and advocacy groups, I find one thing
conspicuously absent: Character Development. They are all about education and assistance and opportunity and “resource rich” agencies, but to insist that the poor be self disciplined or respectful or
dependable is beyond their scope.
Being “poor” in and of itself is not the curse. I know poor people (and I don’t mean I know about someone who is poor, I mean these are my friends and we go out once in a while). There are some who have all their bills paid, dress well, and aren’t starving. How poor? $500 to $600 per month income, that’s how poor. I know others who are always moving from place to place because they can’t pay their bills. Same money, different results. So unless other issues are addressed, jobs and income will not elevate these people.
Perhaps it would be well to remind everyone that there are 3 kinds of people who are “impoverished”: Those who want to change, but can’t. Those who want to change, but need help. And those who don’t want to change. In the first class are the mentally ill and disabled, for whom perpetual maintenance is the task at hand. The last class contains the criminal, the welfare cheat, the liar, and the thief. Jail for these. But the middle class is for whom the below initiatives are written. They just can’t seem to climb out the hole without a helping hand.
It has been well said that poverty is not the lack of things, but instead, poverty is a positive disease that infects and disables. I believe this. And I believe that if one is going to “cure” this disease, then one must treat the causes and not just the symptoms. The symptoms include joblessness, lack of education, financial ignorance, transportation, childcare, and personal hygiene and organization. What are the causes? Addiction. Immorality. Contempt. Arrogance. Indifference. Denial. Inability to focus. No self control. No sense of the future. Acceptance of minimal standards. Loss of hope.
Now these things actually infect all levels of society, but for the poor, they are what keeps them poor. Oh, I know there are exploitative landlords and pawn shops. These will have their just condemnation by God and society. But from what I have seen and experienced, the road to prosperity begins with developing integrity and commitment, and these seem to lacking from most programs I have seen (as if I were so totally up-to-date on all the programs out there… ha).
Perhaps I am too much of a disciplinarian. What I see as an agenda for recovery is composed of tests and evaluations and requirements and reviews, compounded with personal accountability, friendship (with professional distance), transparency (borne of trust), mutual respect, and a blending of standards, and then overlaid with opportunities and education. My program would have me in their face (at their house) every day in the beginning, requiring benchmarks every week, and enforcing penalties for non-compliance. Some friend I am.
Frankly, it takes a lot of time and money to support this journey, and social service agencies are not well known for having an abundance of these. Volunteers? A good idea that finds very few people willing to go the whole way. Churches? The best idea, but only a few churches will accept the responsibility, and even fewer are good at it (partly because poverty is outside their experience). What should we do in the meantime? Involve all of the above, raise awareness, and befriend just one person in need (but not as a project). The war on poverty, you know, begins with those who are not impoverished (us), and is fought along side those who want to change.
Here’s my cure for homelessness: Churches. In Indianapolis, my home town, on any given night , there are 2000 homeless.
Indianapolis has 1000 churches. If all the churches would agree to “adopt” 2 homeless persons per church, no more homeless problem, Right? Such a solution has a few bugs tho. Some churches don’t
care. They’ll never say that, but when you look at their community involvement (no food pantry, no clothing pantry, no transportation or utility assistance, no outreach, no “ministry with justice”),
then it becomes pretty clear who cares and who doesn’t. Further, most homeless people don’t want to be sponsored by a church, muchless be accountable to one. (Altho to be fair, about half of the
homeless are homeless because of mental illness, and submission to authority is just not their thing.) And, no government agency can fund this because it would be endorsing religion.
Don’t like that idea? Got another one. The families and relatives of the homeless should take them in. No more homeless, right? I mean, everybody’s got family somewhere, yes? Again, problems emerge. Like as with Churches, many homeless won’t have anything to do with family, muchless live under their rules. Some homeless really don’t have family, altho this is actually rare. And, most families are justifiably afraid of taking in a cousin Fred, if he was/is a drug addict or thief or schizophrenic. But I should also say, there are many families who do this anyway. God bless them. And lastly, some families are toxic, and homelessness is actually an improvement.
The fix? Intake, evaluation, and placement. Where to place? Churches and families if possible. Shelters and missions if not. My spin? Homeless hotels (planned by design colleges) with low density occupancy. (High density is statistically bad. Increases in crime happen.) Buildings with closet sized rooms which charge $2 per night to stay, and $5 per night for food. Security and sanitation will need the most attention. Park a few concierges in the lobby, and you’ve got the Homeless Hilton. Note: My concierges know where to find drug rehab, food stamps, and vocational schools. Want more details as to length of occupancy, penalties for non-compliance, and work-for-food ideas? Ask the experts… any rescue mission.