Tuesday, June 22, 2010

American Poverty Isn't About Lack of Resources

The myth that poverty is a result of underprivilege is a common one. However, it is also a myth which is far removed from truth and reality. Homelessness in America, especially, is something that is very rarely caused by systemic dislocation or oppression. Instead, in most instances in America, both poverty and homelessness are the result of consistently poor lifestyle choices. I have worked in various ministries with my church that reach out to the poor, and I also go out of my way to help those who are in need whenever I can. Because of this, I have a lot of firsthand experience dealing with those who are in need.

Generally, my policy is that if a poor person asks me for something, I will do my best to offer them something, within reason. Typically, I shy away from giving cash, since monetary gifts often are used to support drug and alcohol addictions. However, I am more than happy to take a poor person and buy them a meal, if they are genuinely hungry. My stance on this stems directly from the words of Jesus Christ. "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." (Matt. 5:42)

Last night, I stopped at a gas station near my home, to fill up my car. Leaning on one of the garbage cans was a middle-aged fellow who looked fairly unkempt and wore bedraggled clothes. As I stepped out of my car, he looked at me with a pained expression and mumbled in broken English, "I haven't had a thing to eat all day. Could you give me a little money?" I wasn't feeling in a particularly hospitable mood, so I just simply looked at him and shook my head. However, while I was pumping gas, I didn't feel quite right giving him nothing at all. I quickly glanced around my car to see if I had anything to offer him. There was a half-empty box of goldfish crackers and a full cup of warm tea that I'd just gotten from Starbucks.

After pumping gas, I walked over to the fellow and asked if he was hungry. He replied, "I haven't had anything to eat today. If you could just give me a little money... maybe a dollar or two." I told him, "Would you like some crackers? I have a box of crackers, if you're hungry." He looked a little bit perplexed or confused and said again, "Could you just give me a little money? I'll take anything." I repeated myself, "I have a box of goldfish crackers, if you want. There are plenty of crackers in the box." He looked at me rather unenthusiastically. Thinking that maybe he was confused or didn't know what crackers are, I took the box out of my car and brought them over to him. He took the crackers rather wistfully and set them down next to him. I asked him if he was thirsty, and offered him my tea. But, he didn't seem too excited by that proposition.

He mumbled some other things that I couldn't understand. After fruitlessly trying to converse with him for a minute or two, I patted him on the shoulder and told him, "God bless you. Enjoy your crackers." As I walked back towards my car, he began to mumble something else, and then he told me, "You're an asshole." I hopped in my car and left. I fail to see how offering him some food and a nice warm drink could possibly be considered asshole behavior. It only made sense if he didn't actually want food, but instead was only seeking money. It simply supports my hypothesis that most homeless and poor people aren't primarily in their condition because of mere circumstances. Time after time, this sort of thing is precisely what I experience in dealing with such people. More than 60% of the time, they are lying ingrates. I certainly care about their plight, but in such cases the issue isn't lack of resources. The issue is poor lifestyle choices and a pathetic attitude. American poverty isn't really about a lack of resources much at all.


  1. In the guy's defense, offering *goldfish crackers* is the equivalent of giving a 1 cent tip to a waiter: a slap to the face. Better to just ignore him outright if you're not going to give him the dollar he's asking for. "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a dollar, will give him goldfish crackers instead?" -Luke 11:11

  2. Well, I disagree with Xamuel on this one. If he's well and truly hungry than any food is welcome. I've bought a meal for guys like the one in Silas story more than once. Most of the time they are truly grateful. A couple of times I'm sure they thought they had me pegged as a sucker.

  3. @Xamuel: First of all, I must complain about your poor Biblical exegesis. If you aren't going to use a verse the way it's meant contextually, then don't use one at all. The passage you mentioned is clearly dealing with fathers and sons. It cannot possibly be extended to apply to all people who ask you for anything.

    Secondly, when he claims that he "hasn't eaten anything all day," the clear implication is that he desires some sort of food. I offered him some sort of food. If he had requested a different sort of food (such as a hamburger, or a candy bar) I would have been very likely to oblige. Not only did he not gratefully accept what I did give him, he also made no effort to express what he did desire (apart from money). Heck, if he had just been honest with me and asked for a beer or a pack of cigarettes, I might have helped him out.

    Like Alkibiades, I've also had several instances where beggars genuinely were hungry, and blissfully accepted a meal. This fellow wasn't such a sort. He wasn't really looking for food.

  4. You seem so intelligent, Silas, therefore, your religiosity puzzles me.

  5. Well, Angeline, it is easy to see from that remark that you are neither religious nor intelligent.