By Thomas Wagner, SVdP Staff
An unfortunate aspect of our country’s narrative about poverty is that we often use the term “the poor” as a noun rather than as an adjective. The difference is dramatic. Usage as a noun signifies more permanence while use as an adjective connotes a more temporary condition.
Unfortunately, many of us using the noun reference are assuming that those in the predicament of poverty are incapable of becoming self-sufficient and productive members of American society.
While the idea of being poor may seem distant to many of us, it really shouldn’t. Here is a sobering number to think about. Almost 100 million American people, one out of every three of us, are either poor or very close to being poor.
Poor people struggle on a daily basis for things many of us take for granted, e.g., a warm bed, food on the table, a job, and a steady income. The near poor generally live paycheck to paycheck, scraping by and hoping and praying that things get better.
While we frequently witness the immense barriers poor people confront, the poor often become just numbers to us. Those of us who serve and advocate for the poor often innocently fall into the trap of believing everyone we see is in a permanent state of being poor. Hence the noun reference.
Over time, we may forget to see the faces of the poor, to understand their grief. In essence, we lose sight of the fact that the people we are serving have God given gifts and potential within them.
At St. Vincent de Paul, our Case Management Program seeks to help people reclaim their gifts and talents and assist them in learning that the current predicament of poverty they are experiencing does not have to be a state of permanence.
This is not to say the barriers they face are not real and profound, because they are. However, issues such as a lack of education, lack of affordable housing, and racism, to name just a few, can bring down the strongest of humans, let alone someone who has fallen on hard times.
Our program realizes these barriers and seeks to connect participants to resources where they can learn to regain basic stability. But, the program does not stop there. We also work with participants to help them realize and appreciate the benefits of a healthy social structure.
We work with their “cognitive skills,” helping them navigate our complex world with better thought processes. Moreover, we are working to connect participants to opportunities for growth and development, so they are not living month to month on the brink of despair.
We don’t believe that poverty is a condition that God intended. One can experience poverty as an economic situation, a lack of political voice or even as state of mind. We can never believe that anyone is destined to be or remain poor or in the state of poverty.
Seeking to solve the problem of poverty is an opportunity for those of us with means to be in solidarity with those who live without to build a better society, celebrating the massive untapped talent of “the poor.”
It just might be that we should start thinking about using the adjective much more than the noun reference.