Quest to End Poverty in America Part 3

Where do we start?

There is a strong temptation to start with a discussion of the causes of poverty. However, this tends to lead to debate and argument about who is to blame.  Typically these discussions will focus on two areas.  First it is the fault of the poor.  If they just tried harder or got off of drugs or countless other things than there would not be poverty.  In many cases this is true.  No solution to poverty can ignore personal choices that lead to poverty.  Choosing to skip work in order to drink alcohol or if your work performance is negatively impacted by drug use than yes you will be poor.  If you are lazy you will not be able to maintain a household and relationships, much less a job.  However, it is too simple to blame people for their own pain.  We will need to address personal choices in whatever plan that we institute.  The second area that gets much attention is the environment or the society that is to blame for poverty. This too is valid.  Racism, the restructuring of the family, businesses moving overseas and other environmental and societal issues are all a factor in creating poverty in this nation.

A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

-Proverbs 6:10-11

Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food.

-Acts 7:11

These are both valid explanations. We will explore solutions and ideas around both of these areas around this issue; it does not benefit us too much to debate and argue over the causes.  While the debate is happening, the next generation is hungry, and ready to join the masses of men and women who are experiencing poverty.  Instead of starting with the causes, let us start with the issues right in our face.

William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army believed that if you were going to end poverty you needed to provide people with food, shelter, work and hope.


While we will discuss this further when we talk about nutrition, we must start with an understanding that people need to eat.  Think about how you get when you are hungry.  How is your energy level?  How about your mood?  How productive are you at work?  I once read a study of decisions made by appeals court justices.  Because of great documentation of the processes, we can tell what time all of the decisions were made.  The study noted that in the morning the defendants were more likely to get a favorable decision the earlier in the work day that their appeal came before the judge.  As the morning wears on and the time gets closer to lunch the decisions tend to be more negative for the defendants.  The same thing happens right after lunch. The justice is softer with a full stomach than when he or she is hungry.  Maybe part of any trial lawyers’ tool kit should be candy bars.  This hunger factor does not just impact judges, people tend to become more negative when they do not have much to eat.  Food is a critical piece of the solution.  We must make sure that all of our people eat.

Food needs not only to feed the stomach.  Food banks are full of canned foods and other foods that have been donated because they were approaching the end of their shelf life.  They also have a wide variety of foods that common folks don’t eat.  We give this to those who are living in poverty and expect them to be grateful.  Additionally our shelters, soup kitchens and other free eating sites are overwhelmed with an assortment of processed foods.  Because of the difficulty in gaining funding these foods must be served.  The problem is that these foods will lead to health problems.  Those with health problems have trouble keeping a job, have trouble functioning in a society that worships good health and youth and will ultimately create health care costs for all of society.

I once read that there is junk and there is food, but we really don’t have junk food.  I have come to agree.  When we get to the section on nutrition we must try to figure out how to get more healthy foods to those in poverty.

Food will give energy and health to those in poverty.  That is where we can start to make a difference.  People are hungry.  Can we find a way to feed everyone?  We will explore this throughout the book.  But consider that our current system of food stamps does not seem to be working.  We have way too many abuses and we have caused people to become dependent on the government to supply the resources.  Since we are a government by the people and for the people if we are to supply food for everyone we will need to take it from someone else.  Taxpayers often balk here. They will correctly state that they work hard for their money.  They ask why they should give away what they have earned to those who are lazy.  That is exactly what is being done when you pay your taxes so that the government can pass it on for you.  How can we feed the hungry people that will encourage them not to sit back and simply treat it as a handout? How can this be done?

There is a Biblical concept called gleaning.  Throughout the Old Testament the rich were commanded not to harvest to the edges of their fields.  They were commanded not to go over their fields twice.  The idea was that the poor could go out and gather for themselves and be fed.  Yet, the food gathered through gleaning was healthy and good for you.  The work in the outdoors was also beneficial.  Beyond that the concept is brought out that those that are currently wealthy by manmade standards need to share with those that are experiencing need.

What caused the great depression?

An investigation into the causes of the great depression will show that greed was one of the primary factors that led to the suffering of millions, worldwide.  Selfishness does not look pretty in society.  Yet we see this often as businesses try to squeeze every penny out of their enterprise regardless of who it hurts. 

Our goal must be to honor these men and women by allowing them to work for their food in some capacity. 

A solution to our hunger problem?

This gleaning concept seems to solve our problem.  At first glance this is a great idea for those who are hungry.  They get fed and the wealthy are not greedy.   But wait it’s not that simple.  What about those who have disabilities?  They may not be able to go out to the fields.  If they have families they can help.  Families are a part of the solution.  We will discuss that more in detail later.  But in our current discussion, what if there is no family?  Also consider that if a man or woman is out picking fruits and vegetables all day they are not looking for work that will help them not need to go out and glean.  If we are not careful we will entrap folks in the world of poverty.  Also at issue is that currently most of those experiencing poverty are living in urban settings.  Growing foods may not be very common and so opportunities to glean may also be lacking.  We will explore solutions to this problem when we discuss some promising opportunities around hydroponics and community gardens.  One final challenge comes to us in the form of those that really are lazy.  Some will simply not go out to gather the food and then expect others to come through for them.  There are those folks who will work really hard to show that they cannot work.  What do we do with them?  Do we simply sit and watch them starve?  What about their children?  This is a difficult problem with no easy solution.


Once men and women are fed they are ready to be concerned with security and stability.  There is a tendency to believe that shelter is all about a roof over their heads.  While that is part of the story, we must look deeper.  We focus on temporary solutions and wonder why people are unstable.  We offer rental subsidies, rescue shelters or tent cities or other short term, unstable answers to the housing problem.


“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27

This temporary mindset carries over and suddenly folks begin to look at things differently. 

One example of where it impacts people at work as this mobile mindset carries over and they are always looking for the next job. They feel the right and privilege to do a poor job, be rude to their supervisors and give less than their best.  Why not, they can just change jobs.  It won’t matter all that much.  When they get fired it is the boss’s fault or the company is crooked.  Never is it their own fault.

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.

-Proverbs 10:4

It can even be argued that this same mindset carries over to family life as flexibility becomes the rule of law.  There is no need to be respectful of family if you can leave at anytime and couch surf or shack up somewhere else.  There is no need to heal relationships because they will accept you as you are and take your side down at the tent city or the local rescue shelter. 

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

-Proverbs 25:45

Values also are impacted by this as folks waver when they are not in a long term permanent home.  If you are only living in the temporary and tomorrow does not matter who cares if you lie, steal or cheat?  A person has to do what they have to do to survive don’t they? 

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Isaiah 5:20

Our target needs to be a home, not simply a place to lay their head or leave their belongings. A home is stable and is also passed onto the next generation.  The stability is felt and understood by children and it will benefit them for many years.  How do we get there where everyone is stably housed?  Building smaller homes that those experiencing poverty can afford is a step in the right direction.  This could take the form of tiny houses or small cottages.  The difficulty comes when we think that we need to house them first and then deal with the issues that cause someone to become homeless.  Without the incentive of living on the streets or in a shelter we have seen clearly that most will not make new choices.  They are secure in their dysfunction.  If we want to develop a sustainable housing plan we must deal with the issues that cause folks to become homeless first.  That would require dorm like settings in rescue shelters where men and women can be re-parented with right values and right work ethics.


 “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”
Proverbs 12:11

Work is about more than a paycheck.  If the only benefit was the paycheck than the welfare systems that have been in place since the New Deal would have done wonders for our nation.   

Work equals purpose.  Work gives men and women a reason to get out of bed and impact their place of business and their communities.  Work gives a reason to shower, to dress in ways that connect them to society and strive to get along with others.  This purpose is also carried over to families.  A strong work ethic leads to cleaner homes and students who study harder.  I have known men and women that graduated college because they wanted better jobs than their parents.  It is the work ethic that really changes the hearts of people. 

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:23-24

At work you will forge some of the best friendships that you will ever experience.  While on the clock you learn the discipline of knowing when to speak and when to shut your mouth.  When you work you learn manners and how to talk respectfully to those in authority.  Work gives you projects that will be completed even if it is only the conclusion of a sale with fries there is completion.  Completing things is good for our minds as we realize there is a reason for our efforts.  A side benefit of work is that for at least a set amount of time it keeps folks out of trouble.  The old saying that says that idle hands are the devil’s workshop often proves to be true.

Having work does of course come with the benefit of a paycheck.  But now that check has meaning. When you are making a purchase of a movie ticket you no longer think of that movie costing you ten dollars.  You think is this movie going to be worth an hour of work?  When you go buy a one dollar candy bar is this worth ten minutes of work?  That changes how people shop.  Consider how you spend money when you receive it with a card for your birthday verses how you typically spend a paycheck.  Work makes us think differently about how we spend our money.

So how do we get people back to work?  Long forgotten programs that were part of the New Deal could be resurrected for the benefit of us all.  Money that is allotted to welfare programs could be combined with money set aside for building roads or state parks could be combined to reform the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) or the WPA (Work Progress Administration).  A revised CCC would take men and women who have demonstrated a lack of discipline and put them into a military like setting and put them to work taking care of our state and national parks.  We will dig into this deeper later.  The WPA style program would be for those who are disciplined, have special skills and can provide work that will benefit our communities.   

Here again we run into difficulties.  Unions have fought for higher wages, what happens to those wages when we take work from the union workers?  Again, no easy answers.  Another difficulty does deal with those who have physical or mental disabilities.  What do you do with them?   I would suggest that everyone who is drawing breath can do something to benefit our community.  There is no disability that can stop a person who is willing to work from performing an admirable job.

As many take time to complain about the growing gap between the rich and the poor I wonder how many have taken time to consider the truth that many of the government programs might be feeding the gap?


One time I was playing Monopoly with my kids.  They have a standard policy not to negotiate with dad because when I negotiate I tend to end up with property that will enable me to win.  As the game progresses and the kids own all of the properties and I am unable to build any houses or hotels I realize that it is only a matter of time before I will lose.  That lack of hope makes the game lose all of its luster and fun.  Now imagine a life where you believe that the odds are so stacked against you that you can never hope to win?  For many in our nation this is a sad reality.  If we can even dream of a nation without poverty than to be successful we must give men and women hope.  As a Christian I believe that the only lasting hope comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Everything else that might give hope is temporary.  A job is temporary, family is temporary but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He does not change.  That is hope that I can believe in. 

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Even if they or you reject this form of hope you must enable them to dream again.  What did they want to be when they were kids?  What happened to that dream?  What part of that dream can we bring back to life?  How do we help folks get back in touch with who they were created to be after a long season of neglect?  These are all challenges that we must address and not surrender until we find a solution.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

-Helen Keller

Many of the men and women that I work with will tell me all of the things that they cannot do.  While I do care about these things, it is not particularly helpful.  No one will hire you for what you cannot do. My question is always the same. “What can you do?”  If they can breathe and force a smile on their face there is hope for them.  Help these men and women in poverty consider the things that they are capable of and watch what happens. 

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. 

-Jim Valvano

Within everyone there is something that is often sitting there, stagnant waiting to be called up when needed.  I have been hearing the term grit more often than before and this is that something that is often lacking in lives without hope.  We need to stir up grit within folks and motivate them to rise up and live courageous, heroic lives.

Over time, grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness.

-John Ortberg


An additional element discovered by that Catholic Priest in Paris is the importance of service.  Even those with fewer financial resources are strengthened when they serve others.  As we develop our programs we must strive to empower those who are currently experiencing poverty to find someone to serve. 

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13

This might be serving our senior citizens so that they can live their final days at home instead of in the overpriced, understaffed and hopeless environment of most nursing homes.  This might include those currently homeless in the cleaning of our streets, parks and empty lots instead of standard employees.  The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations.  Give people purpose and they will never cease to amaze us.

So we have begun this journey together.  I hope that you will go onto the next chapter and continue on in the adventure.  In the meantime consider the following questions and discuss them with others.

Application Questions Chapter 1

  • What is the mental image that I conjure up when I think about poverty?
  • What are my emotions around those in poverty?
  • Where do I fall on the personal choice cause or environmental cause debate?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice to really help make poverty vanish from my community?
  • What benefits can I think of for our community if we were to end poverty?