The more I work with people through my church assignment, the more I realize that everyone... no really... EVERYONE has a story.

Sometimes it's sad. Sometimes it's unbelievable. Sometimes it's happy. Sometimes it's filled with love and heartbreak, action and adventure, sickness and death, abuse in all forms, childlessness, hunger, poverty, depression, joy, drugs, sex.... and sometimes... all of the above.

Even when it's easy to write people off as lost causes, or because the situation they are in is a direct result of their actions. Sometimes I think "they did this to themselves" or "even if I help today, they'll be back in the same situation next week" or "WHY DO THEY KEEP MAKING THE SAME FRIGGING MISTAKES over and over and over?"

Everyone has a story.

Last week, my phone rang while I was at work. It was at the end of a meeting, so I was able to quietly excuse myself and slip out without causing a disruption. I stepped into the mail room at work and answered "hello?". That was the last thing I said for 90 seconds. A stranger, who had looked up the local church congregation online, and found my number, was on the other end of the line. He told me his name, where he was from, and that he was here in Denver and... on... and on... and on... for about 90 seconds (it felt like 5 minutes but I actually looked at the phone before I said anything - 1:29). I now knew more about this young man after a minute and a half than I knew about a girl after a first date in college. Contributing to this I think are two things: 1 - members of our church tend to trust other members quickly, and 2 - My current role at church is one that theoretically, I am to be trusted (and there's a bit of a vetting process to ensure I'm not a pedophile, fraud, thief, etc). So I understand that he trusted me out of the gate. But this call in particular struck me as funny because for 90 seconds, I said nothing other than "hello" and he opened up his life to me. He could have called Pizza Hut. This kid had a story.

Everyone has a story.

A few years ago, a guy came through the church doors and sat down with me to ask for some help. His wife was sick, his grandkids were hungry and they were all living in a dive motel. He couldn't work because of an injury and his leg was messed up from I don't remember what. His story was SO desperate.

Everyone has a story.

I’m working with a woman now, a single mother of four children. She grew up in poverty. She and her children have been victims of abuse. She has various forms of public assistance, but none of it is ever enough. She’s stuck in the cycle. She can’t work because daycare is more than she would earn. She gets a job, gets subsidized childcare from the county, and then the childcare near her house runs out of openings - she loses the job. It’s a lose, lose, situation for her. We’re still getting creative with solutions, but all the while - there are four kids, learning poverty. She has a story.

Everyone has a story.

And that's how it usually goes. I get a call, people tell me their story, and then they ask for something. I get it. Perhaps hey don't want to feel like they're begging, or maybe they feel like their chances of getting a "yes" out of me are better if their story is more desperate, or more deserving.

And look - I'm a father, and a husband, and I have a full-time job and a side business... I barely have time to meet with some of these folks, let alone have time to run background checks, or visit each living situation to do a full-blown assessment of the situation. I have to go with my gut. I have to discern who has a need, and who doesn't.

Everyone has a story.

The first guy - he didn’t end up needing any financial help, just some guidance and local knowledge that got him headed in the right direction. The second guy? a total fraud. The last lady, she’s awesome. She wants to work. She wants to be better. She’ll make it through sheer determination. Sometimes I get lied to, sometimes I don't. The sad thing is... even the ones who are lying still need some help. I mean really, my heart breaks for them as much or more than it does for the people who are honest with me. If the liars could be honest with themselves and address some root cause issues in their lives - I could actually help.

It’s crazy - poverty isn’t just a situation - it can be a long term learned behavior that spans generations.

[I acknowledge that a HUGE number of people in poverty are either disabled or mentally ill - that’s another topic for another day - and sometimes even more colorful stories]

I was going to post this in pubksi… but it kept getting longer and longer. I don’t even know what else to say. Poverty sucks. There are no easy answers. And I’m not suggesting you all start throwing money at people holding signs. But before you write them off completely, remember that everyone has a story. Even if it’s a shitty one.


user-inactivated:

You are just another NPC in the MMO of someone else's life. When you think of it this way, it sort of changes the tone.

I was talking to a kid at one of my outreach events in a, well let's say poor area, and a cop came over to talk to us. It was funny because we both straightened up and were very tense for that first 30-60 seconds of the encounter. The cop was cool and just wanted to look through the telescope and say "hello" but it is funny that this kid had nearly the same reaction I did. Once the cop was gone, he looked at me and half laughed said "Why are you all tense, you're white!" I replied along the lines of "Long story man, its all good now." How do you tell a kid that you grew up poor, Irish and Catholic in a part of the country that did not like Irish, or Catholics and really fucking hated poor people? That my friends and I mapped out the patrol routes and times so that we could go out and not have to deal with "cop shit?" That my friends got unlucky and had the shit beat out of them by a cop who admitted to the court that he hated the people who lived in my part of town? And how do you tell him that the bitterness and mistrust you have now will never really go away?

As human beings, our brains like to work in a framework that we are special, that nobody else can understand us. We are unique little snowflakes. But the reality is that we humans are herd animals, and many of us are going to have similar feelings, emotions and experiences. My family got out of poverty by luck, hard work and not giving up when by all rights we should have. How many others have been in the same boat? Thousands? 100,000's?

    It’s crazy - poverty isn’t just a situation - it can be a long term learned behavior that spans generations.

I get in arguments when people I know with good intentions think that the solution to poverty is college. Like College loan debt is going to help the situation. The bad deal with poverty is that there is no single cause. The drug war and the prison industrial complex is making it worse. Drug use is really making it worse here in the rural areas. the lack of blue collar factory work. And for that matter the societal dismissal in many cases of non white-collar work. And we don't do big infrastructure projects any more like we used to to absorb some of the young and jobless while at the same time making things that will increase the value of communities which attracts investment, jobs, growth etc. Then you have bad parents, good parents who don't know any better themselves, single parent households, the awful state of daycare and child care for working parents, poor access to health care for kids (Sick kids do worse in school). And that is before we even tackle school funding that shafts poor areas of town.

There are always going to be poor people, and there is always going to be poverty. The way I look at the situation is how to be build ladders for people who want to work and save and strive to escape it? And wow I went off on a tangent to your post, didn't I?


posted by steve: 1511 days ago