The New Enterprise
It is Ash Wednesday, 2015. One of the first items I saw on the news was the shelters for the homeless in these frigid temperatures being filled to overflowing. You can count on the stories....they are always the same. In very cold weather, and in extreme heat.
While I understand this is a 'safe' place for our news anchors and producers to go--it is as rhythmic as the seasons, and I wonder...."how long, oh Lord?" You see, there are never solutions....only a reminder: "They are out there. Don't forget about the 'less fortunate.'" And, just maybe, feel a bit guilty about your comfortable place in life...
Being poor in the United States has become quite the enterprise. Perhaps in my work as the director of a non-profit, I've seen too much. But this must end. From the politicians grandstanding on this particular issue to the leaders of our churches, who are quite comfortable mimicking these "feel good" solutions a part of their narrative on a regular basis. It is a sham...it is a shame.
There is no doubt that we have mental health issues going unaddressed and precious few resources helping them, or even housing them, with love, care, and dignity. Family breakdown has caused many to find themselves in poverty for a time. These issues need our understanding and efforts to help along the way.
But what I'm talking about is the devastating, generational, "always been this way" poverty that is part of our mainstream culture. Politicians get elected on it. Organizations and churches fund-raise on it. Problem is, no one talks about the responsibility of those in poverty to do their part. The social science workers? Long on "compassion"...short on solid solutions.
Years ago, when my kids were very young, we took part in a program through our church that took casseroles to a downtown homeless shelter. Now, this shelter, St. Patrick's Center in St. Louis--which is still there--had a woman who ran the kitchen. I seem to remember her name as Loretta. The first time, I brought our casseroles down (I had the station wagon with the obligatory "wood on the side") to the center on the north side of St. Louis. It was more than a little daunting as a young mother with three young children to be down there looking for this place. Once found, we pulled into the gated parking lot and began to unload our cargo. I'll never forget Loretta...she was busy in the kitchen preparing for the lunch meal, and when she saw my three little ones bringing in casseroles, she stepped out of the kitchen and into the lounge/cafeteria where adult men were sitting/laying on couches and said: "Ya'll want to eat DINNER??? Then get your a---- up and help this nice lady unload this food!" Guess they knew she meant business, because everyone of them got up and assisted until all the casseroles (50+) were safely in the kitchen.
I liked Loretta. I saw Jesus in Loretta. None of the "you poor things....so down on your luck." Nope. Just a "GET UP!" St. Patrick's Center of St. Louis (www.stpatrickcenter.org) still is a wonderful example on how to deal with this kind of poverty. The people who go there must agree to get training for jobs. It is truly not just a handout...but a hand up.
We, the people of God, need to do this right. I often wonder how our heavenly Father will look upon those born here....in arguably the most free nation the world has ever know...who choose DAILY not to make the most of the blessing that is merely a circumstance of birth.
As a help agency, we get a lot of information on how best to deal with the poor. A few years ago, we got a piece that explains the "culture of poverty." I still use it in training my volunteers, because if you are coming from a middle-class, work for what you have background, it is, indeed, a totally different world we are dealing with here. At the time, this was presented by a social worker from the northeast, and I was stunned by the "this is how it is...you can't change it" attitude that this woman presented to us.
In this battle, the Church must quit playing by Caesar's rules in this regard. The beauty of subsidiarity (Rerum novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII) is that we get to know those we serve. One by one, we encourage education, we insist on them taking some responsibility for choices made, and we impel them toward change. Real, life-sustaining change.
That is rolling your sleeves up, getting involved and helping people see the golden glow of hope. This Lent, let us decide together to make a difference. The "War on Poverty" at 50 years hasn't produced anything but more poverty.
We may have lost the war....but, individually, we can win this battle.