Society of St. Vincent De Paul in the Middle of the Fight Against Poverty

by | Mar 3, 2019 | Formation, News, Reflections, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

In his article, Catholic Organizations Scrutinize What Works Best In Fighting Poverty, Mark Pattison of Catholic News Service features work from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and insight from its National President, Ralph Middlecamp on their fight against poverty.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It might be wise to apply domestically what 20th-century Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, whose sainthood cause was opened four years ago, said about poverty: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Despite the latest federal estimate that the number of Americans in poverty is now below 40 million for the first time in a long time – the actual figure is 39.7 million – that still means one of every eight Americans is poor.

Only a small number of them are on street corners or intersections begging for handouts.

“There are folks living at shelters who, because of safety, because of fears, they won’t be on those corners,” said Ralph McCloud, executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“We don’t see people (who are) doubling or tripling with neighbors and friends because they’ve been evicted,” McCloud said, adding that recovery from the “Great Recession” of 2007-09, while the most sustained recovery from an economic slump in U.S. history, was not spread evenly and that some are still digging out from under it.

McCloud said the recent federal government shutdown highlighted how even people in middle-class jobs live paycheck to paycheck. He told of the manager of an apartment complex in the Washington area who was besieged by his tenants, many of whom were furloughed federal employees, asking him to give them some slack on their monthly rent payments. He did, but found he had so little money coming in that he had to lay off the complex’s janitor.

There’s also an interconnectedness between poverty and other issues. “They might be problems with education, with health care, with mental health, a host of other issues,” McCloud told Catholic News Service.

In some places, according to McCloud, people may be literally unable to flee from poverty, which can affect a family for generations – and often enough from just one bad circumstance.

That’s what has been seen by the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, as it started undertaking an effort 15 years ago to begin addressing the causes of poverty and not just offer a safety net.

Many Vincentians would “see the same people come back again and again,” said Ralph Middlecamp, the society’s national president. It marked, for some, a drastic change in direction. Middlecamp put it this way: “We’ve recruited a basketball team. And we’ve started to ask them to play hockey.”

“We continue to provide all the safety-net things,” he added. But more and more, the society is looking at what causes the poverty they’ve been treating for 153 years. “It takes a whole variety of programs that meet local needs. One thing about the St. Vincent de Paul Society is that we’re very grassroots,” Middlecamp said. “Every community has different needs, but there are different organizations that we can collaborate with.”

Some initiatives go back 50 years, he added. The year 1969 also marks the start of CCHD, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program.

Two initiatives that can serve as templates for St. Vincent de Paul conferences and councils nationwide – conferences are often parish-based, while councils are a collection of conferences – are “Getting Ahead” and the new “Immersion” program.

Getting Ahead is a mentoring program, with a series of group activities for people in poverty “to discover their assets, to discover their resources, to build a support team to figure out that path they need to go forward,” Middlecamp said.

Immersion takes best practices from a series of separate St. Vincent de Paul programs to help recently released prison inmates – often called “returning citizens” – to keep them from sliding into poverty and returning to crime. These programs all had recidivism rates lower than the national average; one had a rate of just 12 percent.

What Middlecamp said he wants to see in an expanded Immersion program is something “reproducible” by conferences and councils.

To continue reading the article, click the link below…




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