America has become a nation filled with such wickedness, that often, good-hearted men despair. Yet, there are many that would like to help the poor, but do not know how. The first step in determining how to best help the poor is to be able to recognize and see them. This is not always easy, due to the variety of forces at work in our society today that keep the poor hidden. I would like, first, to discuss these forces, and then offer some practical advice for recognizing those in need.
Most of the forces that keep the poor hidden are government programs, especially housing assistance and food stamps. Back in the day, the poor where concentrated in the projects or in a really bad part of town (and even today, this is still the case, particularly in the larger cities). It was not good that the poor had to live like this (and I for one am glad that such living arrangements are on the decline), but at least they were visible. Everyone knew where the poor were in those days. Today, some of the poor qualify for rental assistance. While this relief provides for those so assisted to have a roof over their heads, it also has the effect of dispersing the poor. Today, the poor live in the suburbs and among the middle class in parts of town that are not discernibly “low income” (the new euphemism for the poor).
Another force that has been doing the same thing is our current recession. In our bad economy, more of our neighbors than we realize may have dropped out of the “middle class,” yet they still reside where they have always lived. For these and other reasons, the poor are interspersed with the middle class, and this is, overall, a good thing. An unfortunate consequence, however, is that the poor are less visible.
Food stamps are one of the means of feeding the poor in America, and I am thankful for the hunger that is prevented. Before food stamps were so widely available, however, the poor had to seek out other sources to obtain food. From pantries to soup kitchens to food banks, they would gather, and while gathered, they would be seen, and when they were seen, the needs could be understood. With today’s system, food stamps come on a debit card, which looks like any other in the checkout line at the supermarket.
The church scene in America today is highly fragmented. The number of denominational and other non-affiliated churches amazes. Clearly, it is not a bad thing that there are so many places of worship, but it is a bad thing that so many will drive past 30 churches to arrive at a Church they either like or that agrees with their own theology. One of the results of all this church shopping is that most end up worshiping in communities filled with people that look exactly like themselves. Churches end up segregated not only along doctrinal lines, but along ethnic, social, and economic lines as well. For the purposes of this article, this means that many people do not see the poor in the one place they should be kneeling side by side – in church.
One perhaps unexpected cause of the concealment of the poor would be nursing homes. When a person is placed in a home, and when medicare is footing the bill, all assets are seized, and all social security payments go to paying the medical bills. While people in nursing homes may be sheltered and fed, they otherwise haven’t a penny to their name. This can be very disheartening, especially for those who have worked their whole lives long (which is most of them).
Finally, before we move on to tips for finding the poor, consider that sometimes the poorest among us are the lonely. Even if materially well off, the lonely are perhaps the most to be pitied, yet there is no visible, outward sign of their need.
The subject of how to help the poor will be the topic of subsequent posts. Before we can help the poor, we must find them. Here are a few suggestions:
- Many of the poor, especially the chronically poor, live in apartment complexes. Rental assistance, as described above, will be enough for a house only if there are multiple children in the household. If you would find the poor, an apartment complex would be a great place to start.
- If there is a soup kitchen, food pantry, thrift store, clothing bank, or any other such service, volunteer. This is a great way to meet people who are poor, while at the same time helping them.
- Visit a nursing home.
- Learn what the food stamp cards look like in your state. Strike up conversations with those using them in the supermarket line.
- If you know people who have been hit by this recession, help them.
- Look for the lonely, especially at Church. They will be the ones sitting all by themselves. Sit next to them. Invite them over for dinner.
- Many in America today, especially since the recession, are stuck in low paying jobs. If you would like to meet the working poor, go into any Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.
I hope to give ideas about how to help the poor in the future, but for now, know this, that the best way to help the poor is to love them. This means taking the time to listen to them with genuine concern, and it means praying for them, as well as helping them with some of their material needs.