What happened to the issue of poverty?

by | Mar 22, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

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What happened to the issue of poverty? Like a set of misplaced keys, I know it was there a minute ago but now I can’t find it.

Within the past year, poverty was the issue of the day on the national stage. Stemming from the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, elected officials and candidates all vowed either to continue the War’s strategies or to replace them with even better answers. Poverty “summits” and simulations were all the rage in Washington D.C. and locally, with government, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and activists gathering to explore how we can end poverty once and for all in America.

Now though, we look around and everyone has left the party. Pundits moved on to new sound bites. Candidates chased doors and votes in other higher-scoring conversation poll areas. Activists went to other causes of the day. Even other Catholic groups seem a bit less interested, moving to other important topics such as immigration, climate and religious freedom. Yet the Poor, as we learned in the Bible, are always with us.

The issue of poverty has lately been fraying around the edges. Contributing causes, symptoms and outcomes of poverty including immigration, disasters, wages and others are getting their due or at least their turn in the spotlight. But instead of dividing and conquering these issues as poverty subsets, instead I think we see a result of the poverty challenge itself being watered down.

At the recent Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, poverty was split there as well into separate subjects and considered as hotter topics such as immigration, climate change and healthcare. Important topics to be sure, but who remains to stand up for those in need before Congress? The old adage of, “If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing” comes to mind.

We’re still here.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has positions and activities on every one of the topics expressed above. But we see it all through the lens of people, our friends in need. They sink into poverty through many different ways, and each person and family has a different path to follow to get out. We are with them in their homes to get to know them as people, not as program statistics and trends. We recognize in the Society each contributing factor of poverty but know they can also be, well, distractions of our time and money away from poverty itself.

I believe God has put us here to help others, not to solve issues. Therefore I suggest as we engage with others in poverty discussions, we stay people-focused. You see, issues can be put aside until later. But a mother and her two kids at the rectory door, well, they need help now. When we reduce this family to numbers and debate points and even well-intentioned programs, we lose a little bit of our humanity.

How do we get, and keep, the attention of lawmakers, the media, and others who have the resources or influence to help people get out of poverty? How do we reduce the noise of competing causes and budget line items? And if other partners in this effort move on to other causes how can we fill the void they leave behind?

Let’s resolve to keep poverty on the agenda. Let’s keep it focused on real families through our stories when we meet with people in power. Let’s turn the conversation issues back to poverty when they stray. And let’s set a personal example of home visits to keep poverty the real and present concern we all need to focus on together. We see the face of Christ in the people we serve. Let’s see their faces in our advocacy and activity with others. If others can see their faces, too, how can they turn their attention elsewhere?

Yours in Christ,

Dave

Source: Frederic’s E-Gazette, A e-newsletter from the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, February 18, 2016

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