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Keep Jesus Out of the War On Poverty Birthday ‘Party’

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My Facebook page libertarian naysayer Bob quickly jumped on my post commemorating the 50th Anniversary of our nation’s War on Poverty. His hackneyed phrases decried spending government money on this lost cause, tossing in the ultimate zinger, “Remember that Jesus recognized that there will always be poor among us.” Oh please.

At least this milestone of public policy change is getting some recognition in the otherwise poverty-bereft news cycle. Though some federal endeavors have been effective, I’d be the last one to say we’ve won the war. It’s not that simple. And I’d certainly not want to see what would have happened without the plethora of government support systems that have cropped up in this last half-century.

As professors weigh in on what’s working and not, calling for a “new paradigm,” and my favorite Beltway policy wonk Kathryn Baer sorts out the confusion, I find myself thinking of the people behind the label of poverty.

For 6 very hot and challenging weeks this fall, I filmed interviews with dozens of poverty experts in Texas. My HEAR US Inc. Worn Out Welcome Mat—TX project will give voice to these families and youth experiencing the most common, and commonly misunderstood and/or unrecognized form of homelessness. They are doubled up and bouncing around because they lost housing, and are invisibly outside the beleaguered emergency assistance system that might offer them help to get back on their feet. They’re not even considered homeless by HUD, a bone of contention to say the least. Hopefully my short film for educators and human service staff will offer enlightenment.

What would Leia from Killeen, TX say about the affordable housing part of the safety net that would allow her and her 3 kids to move into their own place instead of turning to friends and acquaintances for a spot on the floor to sleep? Quite simply, she can’t afford to get a place of her own. Leia told me:

The biggest issue is always coming up with the security deposit…you have to have a deposit for water, gas, electric.... It would cost me almost $2,000 to move into my own place.”

Soldiers aren’t immune to the ravages of poverty. Catherine, a sergeant serving at Ft. Hood in Killeen, had her 13-year-old nephew literally dumped on her doorstep by his dysfunctional father. Contrary to popular opinion, soldiers are not typically rich. Having another child to care for jeopardizes her family’s precarious finances. She spent hundreds on his medical expenses because she is not his official guardian and getting a medical card was a slow process. Catherine astutely pointed out:

“CPS (Child Protective Services) wanted me to get him into the system first…how much sense does that make? To let him go to a foster home and try to figure out if a judge is going to let me have him…?”

And hunger, somewhat assuaged by SNAP, or food stamps, is a huge issue for homeless families and youth doubled up in host households. Bascilio, a 17-year-old and his 16-yo brother, live with their non-English speaking, double-amputee grandmother in a tiny, dilapidated house in Victoria, TX. His father was deported and his mother died. He doesn’t get food stamps, and other than education, he’s outside the poverty-eradication system. His description of hunger made me feel guilty for my unfettered access to food:

“I can go into the kitchen…look and see…milk with no cereal, cereal with no milk…And I look at my brother and ask him, are you hungry? And he’ll say yeah. But we don’t have anything to eat.”

So, Bob and others who think we’re being too generous with these moochers, get over it. Millions on the outside of benevolent Uncle Sam’s safety net are dying…of hunger, exposure, and lack of medical care. Fortunately, hundreds of millions kept out of the deepest recesses of poverty steadfastly struggle to survive, getting at least some assistance from a variety of government programs.

But dragging an out of context quote by Jesus to justify ignoring basic human needs for the poor suckers who’ve fallen through the shredded safety net? Well, I say “a pox be upon you.”