How desperate the cut off line of poverty

My friend Rev. Ricky talks on his blog about a woman in his congregation who was denied services from an agency she needed because she did not meet the eligibility requirements.  She felt anger towards the non-profit and wanted to get beyond it.

In reading this, I was reminded of a surviving spouse of a person we served at Interfaith AIDS Ministry.  She wanted to know how she could continue receiving supports from us.  She had given us the complement that we did what we said we would do and that our services actually made it easier for families struggling.  Our policy was that we continued providing supports to the family one year after the person with HIV/AIDS died as a means to help with the grieving process and to aid in transitioning to other support agencies if needed.  

She was at the cut-off line in eligibility for services from other agencies.  It was clear that she and her family would benefit greatly but that she simply did not qualify because of a number of factors.  She told me that she would infect herself with HIV if it meant that she would be able to live a more quality-filled life with services.  Needless to say I counseled her away from such an action, yet here was the level of desperation we have come to in this country.  Stating that her quality of life would be improved with HIV-a disease that includes treatments that are oft times just as painful and disabling as the disease itself-is a harsh commentary on American life.

At that time, I heard similar stories from my executive director colleagues in the HIV/AIDS arena.  The work they began doing was more and more poverty relief. How do you provide sufficient supports to people living with HIV/AIDS and their families when they are on the cut off line of poverty?  When they are unable to make ends meet on minimum wage? 

It isn’t just HIV/AIDS that places them on this cut-off line… the line is filled with so many more factors…  As the recession that our government denies being in deepens, families that have been floating just above this cut-off line will begin to sink.   It is already happening.   The gap is growing between the rich and the poor.   The middle is waisting away to use an HIV/AIDS metaphor. 

What is the response of the church?  What will it take for us to respond in a manner that doesn’t just provide a safety net for those falling but prevents the fall in the first place.  There is a story that I have heard many versions of and it has been attributed to many people that I do not know its original source. 

The story goes like this…  I was walking along a river when I saw a baby drowning.  I ran in and pulled the baby out.  Just as I pulled this baby out, I saw another baby drowning in the river and another.  I called on the passer-bys and soon there were hundreds of us saving babies drowning the river.  We formed an organization to save drowning babies.  We had services galore for these drowning babies.  Then it dawned on me, and I left the river.  People asked me where was I going when there was so much work to do?  I said, I am going up stream to find out who is throwing babies into the river and stop them. 

Justice is not just the pulling out of the river the drowning babies.  Justice is locating the cause that placed the babies in the river to drown in the first place and stopping that causal condition.   We in America have many causes to the drowning babies problem. 

We can get caught up in the symptom and think that this is the work we must do- to treat the symptom.  Yes, by all means help those suffering and seek to relieve their suffering.  But to truly create justice in America we need to focus on the cause and work there as well. 

I have seen more poverty since moving to Mississippi.  I see more people who are on this cut off line.  They are struggling to make ends meet.  I have listened to their stories, heard their despair, and felt their hopelessness that things will get better.   We need to do better.   We are the richest country in the world and we can do better.  We can create justice that is equitable and compassionate.   Let us begin.  Blessings,




Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 2:14 pm  Comments Off on How desperate the cut off line of poverty  
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