Recently on the way to a dinner party, I stopped to pick up a hostess gift. Outside the store was a man in his 60s, sitting on his haunches, upturned baseball cap in hand. Usually I breeze by, eyes averted. This
time, however, there was the shock
of recognition – he’d renovated my
bathroom several years before.
Here was a middle-class guy,
someone I once knew. Someone
who had been in my home. Now he
sat outside begging. I did not acknowledge him. And I was ashamed
at my reaction.
Having researched this article –
in fact, it was pretty much written
– I had developed an intellectual
posture on poverty, but this chance
encounter jolted me from abstraction into a more deeply felt response.
He appeared to have a drinking
problem. Some might say he was
the author of his own destiny.
Others might say he was a victim
of easily available alcohol or the
depression following the divorce he
had gone through.
But the truth is more complex.
WH Y DOES POVERT Y
Poverty can’t be explained away by
either weak character or an uncaring society. In fact, it is better
understood within a biblical
framework. Speaker and author
Brian Fikkert views poverty as the
sin of broken relationships – with
God, self, others and with creation.
He refers to author Bryant Myers,
who says in Walking with the Poor:
Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (Orbis
Books, 2011) that these relationships can be broken for a variety of
reasons – individual sin, oppressive
systems and even demonic forces.
The solution is biblical, says
Fikkert, keynote speaker at the recent Food for the Hungry conference in Calgary and co-author of
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate
Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and
Yourself (Moody Publishing, 2009).
He sees poverty alleviation as a
ministry of relational reconciliation, “so that people can fulfil their
callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and
their families with the fruit of that
work.” Bad things happen when
our relationships are broken, especially when that triggers a chain of
events that can lead to greater
poverty. We can all probably think
of a friend or family member who
has struggled with poverty because
of relationships that have gone
wrong. Perhaps it’s a single parent
left on their own because of a
broken relationship. Or hundreds
of years of social oppression that
puts people in poverty from the
moment they’re born.
Or, maybe it’s an entire social
system – because “in a connected
global economy, actions in one part
of the world ripple down to impact
people in other parts of the world.
Sometimes the effects are positive
and sometimes they are negative,”
POOR AND CANADIAN
Closer to home, Canada has its own
growing poverty population. These
aren’t primarily the generationally
poor anymore, but educated new
immigrants who spent their savings
to come to Canada, then found no
work once they got here, says Angela Draskovic, director of Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission. Today’s
job landscape is radically different
from the one that met immigrants
in the 1950s and ’60s, when trade
and manufacturing jobs were plentiful, she adds.
The percentage of poor is also
increasing as the gap between rich
and poor widens. Currently, over
half a million Torontonians ( 20 per
cent of the city’s population) live
under the poverty line – nationwide the number is 4 million (about
11. 4 per cent).
Other major cities also have rates
of poverty worse than the national
average – in Vancouver 20 per cent,
in Montreal 26. 4 per cent.
Those numbers are set to grow,
predicts the former CEO of Yonge
Street Mission, Rick Tobias, who’s
been working with low income
people since the ’70s. With the
working poor already living close to
the edge, “there is no margin for
them to fall lower. And when they
do fall, which they will if nothing is
done, we will have a poverty prob-
lem we cannot deal with.”
That reality led to the develop-
ment of Christians Against Poverty
(CAP), a debt relief organization
which works through local church-
es, training Christian volunteers to
help people get out of debt and be
“These are not people who lived
it up and went crazy with credit
cards,” says Dave Knox, CAP’s com-
munications manager in Hamilton,
Ont. “They lost a job, were unem-
ployed for six months, tried to make
ends meet and feed the kids, often
skipping meals themselves. Many P H O