The attitude that people experience poverty because of personal choices is pervasive. It’s common for people with a roof over their head and a job paying the bills to look at other people and think, “They’re just not doing enough to help themselves.”
There are several ways we could poke holes in that argument and sink that myth. But, the first, is simply this: People who do not have someone to love them are the most vulnerable.
When bad things happen, we turn to our networks.
If you take a moment to look back on your toughest days or darkest times, you can likely jot down a list of people who were there to see you through it. This is normal! Most of us have some level of family, friends, or social network we can lean on in difficult circumstances. And likewise, they can lean on us.
If your car breaks down, you probably have a few people you can call for a ride. If you lose your home, you might have family or friends who will let you crash while you get back on your feet. If your job is ripped out from under you, you start asking around for people who may be able to help clean up your resume or land an interview.
Even the simplest encouragement from our networks is invaluable when we need a little pick me up.
Now imagine that is all gone.
Experiencing poverty is often a very lonely endeavor. A common thread among the people we work with on the street-level is their lack of support from people who love them.
On the hierarchy of needs, love is foundational.
When someone doesn’t have a community of people who care about them, they become extremely vulnerable. Their safety net does not exist, their options are extremely limited. It’s like they’re trying to survive alone in a stark wilderness even though there are people all around.
Lack of love and support causes complex trauma.
This level of loneliness is not something many of us experience. But we can tell you first hand that this level of loneliness causes significant trauma. When a person never experiences simple compassion or the warmth of another person’s care or love, losing hope is almost inevitable.
Trauma is something that gets stuck in your brain. It’s ideas, and thoughts, and memories that continue to affect the way you think about yourself and about the world. Trauma leads to mental, emotional, and physical downward spirals.
Ignoring trauma in our vulnerable people is a societal failure.
We don’t live in a “fair” world. There will always be people who are exposed to more opportunities and resources than others. There will always be people who have vast support systems and those who do not.
We can not change nature. But we can change societal systems and it is unexceptable not to.
Developing compassion for people who experience this level of loneliness is the first step. The next step is to take action. What systems can we abolish that perpetuate the cycle of poverty? What can we put in place to help be the love and support for people who do not have it?
Maybe the question is, will Kansas City be a community who choose compassion and dignity, and stop weighing down people who do not have the support to lift them back up?