Hard Times, USA: Would You Consider Thinking Differently About Poverty and Poor and Homeless People?
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I know, this isn't the way we normally think. We say: damn, the government is taking 35-40 percent of my money already, and I'm supposed to use more of it to help others? Well, yes, that is what I mean. A key way we can really help is to give parts of ourselves to the cause — our time, our money, stuff we don't need, jobs we can give poor people, even temporary or part time.
The Mormons tithe their members 10 percent. I know, they use some of that money to build a powerful hyper-capitalist business structure worth billions. But they also make sure that no one in their communities are destitute. It's time we, who care, take a page from the Mormons and tithe ourselves for a more fair America.
A week or so ago, I was walking on the outskirts of Union Square, in New York City, in the freezing late afternoon. A guy was sitting on the sidewalk asking for money as people walked by. Since I was thinking about what I have written here, I stopped. I asked him what was up, why he was asking for money. He said, “You know, you are the first person all day who stopped to talk with me. I’m not without skills, I need a job, but I am down and out."
I asked him where he slept. He said he would go up to the Bronx to the projects and sleep in the hallways. I gave him money to get a room for a night. I have no idea how he spent the money, or if his story was true. But I was willing to take the chance. And I was quite sure that no one had talked to him. It was a small, isolated gesture. But we can make millions of these gestures, and make a difference.
We as a society, or many of us anyway, like to think of ourselves as fair. But we tolerate living in a society that is grossly unfair. What's up with that? We throw up our hands; we divert our eyes.
I’m suggesting that we who are privileged have more one-to-one relationships with people in need, even give them money directly. Of course, it’s better to get to know people who are very poor or homeless before giving. But take a stand. Don’t wait for our governments, which are cutting back support, or the mythical day when poverty might be eradicated.
The myth that many poor people don’t know how to manage cash when given money is mostly a myth. In fact, a book published three years ago, titled Just Give Money To the Poor describes how more than 45 developing nations provide impoverished families with cash grants, no strings attached. The idea is that poor people are best equipped to eradicate poverty, and it has proven a success.
“The key is to trust poor people and directly give them cash — not vouchers or projects or temporary welfare, but money they can invest and use and be sure of,” the authors wrote.
Paul Boden is the organizing director for the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which works to expose and eliminate the root causes of poverty and homelessness. He said that government officials and charitable organizations continuously believe they need to decide how poor people use money.
“Whatever little dime a poor person is able to get into their frickin' pocket, somebody else wants a piece of it, and thinks they’re more entitled to it, that they’ll spend it better, they’ll do something wiser with it,” Boden said. “They pass all this judgment on panhandlers on what they’re going to do with this money. But how the fuck does the panhandler know what you do with your money?”