Written by Sunnie Lain, Vincentian Support Services
What is poverty?
If you asked 100 people, “what is poverty?” you would be likely to get 100 different answers. Poverty is a concept that means something different to everyone. A lot of what we think about poverty relates to our own experiences. Poverty is relative and there is no magical defining line between those who are living in poverty and those who are not. Many people in the United States will over the course of their lives experience both wealth and poverty. There is one common theme in what almost everyone would answer when asked what poverty is, though: almost all would say that poverty is a result of a lack of money. We are starting to realize that this is not always the case. As we learn more about people in poverty, we are coming to understand that real poverty can be understood as the extent to which an individual does without resources. These resources may include financial resources, but they may and almost always do include other things as well. A person in poverty may be lacking mental or physical health, support systems, relationships or role models, coping strategies, or spiritual resources. It is important to see the whole picture when looking at a person or family in poverty and to assess what resources they may be doing without.
Building on Resources
Following along with this is the idea that, while people struggling with poverty may be lacking in some resources, they do have other strengths and resources to draw from. One way to look at this is to learn more about and draw from the assets that a person in poverty may have. Getting to know people and helping them to build on the strengths they may have is key in helping them break a cycle that they have fallen into. There are also different kinds of poverty: generational poverty, which is classified as poverty that has been ongoing for two or more generations, and situational poverty, which may be due to unexpected events, such as a divorce, illness, or job loss. Once again, looking at a person in poverty as an individual rather than just a statistic and exploring their unique situation is critically important.
Respecting Those We Serve
At St. Vincent de Paul, we know that every person who comes to us for assistance has a story all their own. We assist them in a way that addresses their specific needs and values what is important to them. We see the people we serve as individuals deserving of respect and dignity, because that is what our faith as Christians calls us to do. It is our mission to “See Christ in the Face of the Poor”. Please join us by donating or volunteering and learn more about us and what we do to bring shelter, assistance, and hope to those in need. *much of the poverty theory discussed here is based on Bridges out of Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, PhD Tweet