T Nation

Helping the Poor


Hey guys,
How can we help the poor in this country? There are some very intelligient guys here, so let's hear it!
Suppose a 19 year old woman, high school dropout, with a 1 year old and 3 year old child, lives under an overpass. Her man (term used loosely) has run off. Now what?

I bring this up because I want to know how all the Bush-haters and liberal democrats would tackle this problem. The Great Society program (Johnson) spent 2 TRILLION dollars, but there she sits, under that overpass.
So let's hear it guys! Help her out.


The solution can be the churches, we have them on almost every square mile of this nation, poor people need to be rehabilitated first in their minds, then with the skills to stay out of poverty. The Republicrats haven't done anything to help the poor, actually the democrats have hurt the poor even more with their socialist handouts, and not just churches, also mosques and synagogues...


Maybe a better welfare system, but then I'm European so 'big government' doesn't scare me. Huge communist government does, but not big amiable government. Little, angry, war-like government scares me as well. You know for all the left-haters out there think how much good the New Deal did. The poor could do with a newer deal now though.


So, the church is going to let them live there and provide food and clothing too? They will do this even if the person is unwilling to be subjected to any flavor of religious indoctrination (during mental rehabilitation)? That's great!

I don't think it makes a huge difference where the money to keep someone alive is coming from. Whether it is the church or the government, it is still our money, it still has approximately the same cost, and the recipient still has the same needs.

However, as you've stated, they have to be given the skills they need to fit themselves into the working world. This is also tough. What kind of wage will this mother require in order to be able to afford day care of some type while she is on the job? She probably can't earn that while working part time at a McJob.

Hey, I'm not really trying to criticize you for suggesting churches, but the issue is very complex and difficult to solve. They are as good a place as any to look for solutions, but they also introduce complexity issues with respect to the beliefs of the needy and the beliefs of the church.


Churches can help...A little. And in a situation like the one you described a person needs to take all the angles and get all the help from everywhere she can. I would also go get into the YWCA for shelter and food first and foremost. They can also get you clean so a person can start job hunting.

Once that part is initiated, I would then go to Social Services and get on Medicaid, food stamps and all other assistance that might be offered. Social Services also has donations of furniture, clothing, etc all the time and can also help with daycare. Then I would head to the local housing authority and get on the long waiting list for housing. That's a start...

As for what I do personally, I work for social services as a social caseworker so I'm helping the poor, hurt, disadvantaged every single day.


Most street people are mentally ill or addicts.

There are tons of public and private programs that will help but they need to want it. We do not institutionalize people like this anymore.

The poor will always be with us, it is the human condition. All we can do as a society is to make sure they don't starve or die of exposure.


Since this is an internet forum and thus, from a government policy standpoint, totally and completely meaningless, I'll run with this one. We must adjust our attitudes about food, clothing, housing, and medical care.

If we have a civilization to "protect" us from nature, why have we tried to recreate the conflicts of nature inside the civilization? That is, if social contract theory is the root of our government/economic order, then why have we re-created the war of "all against all" inside the framework of the social contract? I personally think social contract is a load of ostrich shit, but "one doesn't have to believe in Santa Claus to know that people will exchange presents at Christmas time."

We have created, and recreate every day through our actions and beliefs, an artificial structure (society) that thrives on viewing each other as alien and "other." Rockefellers and Snopes and Sauds and poor Arabs (sorry) have more in common with one another than we have differences, yet we are willing to kill one another and let those "other people" starve.

We take our economic and government games too seriously and people get hurt in the process.


Battlelust, conflict is part of our nature. It is part of everything we do.

You even use it in your name.

Society will never eliminate the us vs. them attitude. We always want to have more or be better than our neighbors.


I think it is the role of government, especially local govt, to make sure that it's citizens do not starve to death. So in this case I would support local emergency aid being funded by the govenment to help this family and give them shelter. This doesn't preclude charities and churches along with other NGO's from doing the same or more.

I don't think it is the role of the govenement, long term, to make sure this family isn't poor. By that I mean the needs of the poor should be provided for such as medical care, temporary housing and food. Beyond that it is more about choices then the amount of money the government throws at you.

Le't look at your individual example again. A young mother, who dropped out of school and has two children out of wedlock. No amount of government aid will elevate her from poverty until she makes some serious lifestyle changes.

  1. Having children out of wedlock is a
  2. Having unprotected sex is a choice.
  3. Dropping out of school is a choice.
  4. Allowing a man who runs out on you,
    into your life, twice, is a choice.

A highschool dropout with a difficult childcare situation is not an attractive employee to anyone private or public.

Those poor choices made by that mother have contributed to her poverty more then any other factor. If the individual cannot take responsibility for themselves, then govt. will do no better. She has the ability to earn a living but she has chosen a different path and the consequences have been terrible.

It is vital that government provide equal opportunity for all. Opportunity to succeed thru job training, help with daycare, drug treatment programs, etc. will all help the right individual who has made the choice to move on with their life and become sucessful. If your goal is to collect as much assistance as you can for your bad choices, I would propose that no amount of money will ever make you happy. This person in your example included.

Sadly I have interviewed countless graduates of job training programs in NYC and welfare to work programs. Most of those folks have not made the decision to move forward with their lives. I am shocked by how many have told me under what conditions they would accept a job from me. It's really sad the amount of money wasted on folks who get no benefit from it. I would contrast that with local, community based programs, often centered around ethnic institutions, that have generated some great employees. No ethnic group in particular, it's NYC, take your pick. The fact that those groups choose people who want to do better is the key to their success.

My two cents. We need to help the poor as much as possible but part of that help is driving them to join society as a participant instead of a victim.


I agree 100% that conflict and competition is a part of human society. I love competition and I think it can improve the individual and the society immensely.

However, I still think its a valid to question whether or not EVERY aspect of human activity should be a conflict or competition. Perhaps if we expanded our ideas of basic rights (which are made up anyway) to include a few more things, our competitions would be more productive for society and the individual. We humans have an almost infinite capacity for change and creativity and much of this creativity is currently wasted on mundane survival issues. Generally speaking, the more access to education and wealth an individual has, the more that individual can pursue projects that improve the society. Poor people can't afford to waste their time brainstorming new ways to power a vehicle or build a democracy.


A few ideas:

  1. Lump sum welfare payments, as opposed to essentially limitless installments (which reform helped somewhat)

  2. Public disdain for lifestyles that encourage poverty (ie. stop telling people things they do are ok when they are not)

  3. Stronger community college/vocational system

  4. Better education generally (a topic entire of itself, but there is no need to spend ever more money on better computers in classrooms when children can't do basic math with a chalk and chalkboard)

Other problems are cultural - ie, people think they 'need' all kinds of material crap they don't. Those precious dollars could be spent on something important, but often are not.


Perhaps the problem could best be solved by treating the cause and not the symptoms. We've tried all sorts of social programs, like the Great Society. Is there something we could do to prevent all those bad choices from occuring in the first place?

I know this will sound fascistic, but could we, as a society, intervene early on? Force this child to eat properly (making her live in a dorm setting), absolutely prevent interaction with males, force her to become educated and be punished otherwise? (Remember the scene in the movie 'Fightclub' where Tyler forces a clerk to go back to community college?) Do we have to resort to these terrible actions to deal with this problem? Nothing else seems to be working.

Will kindness put her back under the overpass?


Damn...I agree with you.


That's exactly what they do. I can only speak of the Catholic Charities, as it's the only one I have experiance with, but they help whomever comes to them, with no regard for religious beliefs. They also help with vocational training.

The difference is if it comes from a charity, it was given freely, if it comes from the gov't it was confiscated via taxes.

Not until she proves herself and gets promoted anyway, which is kinda what entry level jobs are for...

If you research religious charities, I think you'll find most provide assistance to anybody in need.


How about she counts on her family, or doesn't drop out of school and start having unprotected sex. Take some personal responsibility. Why should I have to pay for her to have a decent life when I can barely provide myself with one. The woman described is going to spend the rest of her life on some sort of welfare. Maybe they should be left to starve.. (ok that was joke)


Hers the thing in response to te post about what about her family. Most of the time these things happen as a result of a major breakdown at the family level. This example probably at best has a crappy father figure if any and a lazy or drug addicted mother. I work in a jail so I see plenty of people who were doomed from birth. One of the few things that we could do as everyday citizens is report neglectful and dangerous parents to child protective services. I know CPS needs huge overhauls but at least it's a start. There will always be poor people who you can not help due to drug addiction and numerous other factors.


You are assuming she had a supportive family to begin with. Many don't. Your attitude is both cavelier and prejudicial. You wanted to come off like a poster before preaching personal responsiblity, but your tone is clearly different. It has nothing to do with your 'struggles.'
I've seen what a helping hand can do and it is life affirming my friend. Are there those that can't/won't be helped? Absolutely. To turn your back on all who are in need is shallow and lacking in the true understang of manys plight.
Noone is asking YOU to pay for her to have a decent life. How about a decent chance?


Reddog, get a life. A lot of people don't want to be helped by the church. There is no need to nitpick my comments about some of the difficulties involved.


While I agree that often times people make poor choices, I really don't think it is appropriate to force people down the correct paths.

Hell, if we go that way we might as well live in a communist system and have our jobs decided for us as well... since some jobs will have more value for society, and why let me do what I want if it is less productive.

I do think it is important to realize that choices make a difference. However we must also realize that that circumstances influence choice.

Sometimes people make shitty choices because it is very hard to do otherwise. People aren't robots and we'll never get anywhere by expecting them to put aside all their desires or impulses. We'll never get them to ignore their circumstances completely.

By this, I mean there are things that are instinctively alluring. Belonging to a group, having respect, power and safety, for example. I'm not advocating gangs, but acknowledging that there is an underlying reason that people are drawn into certain types of lifestyles and activities. Having children, or more aptly having sex, is one of them.

I do think there are various wants and needs that people have, that can be tapped into, with respect to appropriately motivating them to want to succeed, or become part of a productive mainstream society. However, the concept of instant gratification is perhaps not compatible.

Obviously everybody wants a nice place to live, plenty of cash, a nice car and so on. However, there are less tangible needs that might be addressed. Perhaps appropriate pride, self-reliance and accomplishment in an environment that doesn't trivialize them would be useful.

For example, it's great to have pride, but it won't do much compared to living in fear of your life due to local gangs. Survival, perhaps joining the gang, trumps the pride of making the right choices.

To me, that suggests it might be easiest to focus on education and personal development if external issues can be removed from the scene. Possibly removing people to a safer or more hospitable climate would allow a greater success rate.

Anyway, to close up for now, I think government handouts should be treated like a loan. Sure, one with a low probabiliy of being repaid, but a loan nonetheless. Perhaps an intensive program involving the loan scenario is available for those on standard assistance if they are willing to relocate to "Poor no more U" and show their seriousness through their efforts there.


Holy Shit!! Vroom, the last paragraph of your post is the only thing you have ever written that I agree with fully 100%


I've seen the other side where a helping hand turns into a way of life. That is what drives me nuts, the welfare system needs major change..

I keep getting asked when I'm having kids, I respond I can't afford it. I must have had a dozen people tell me not to worry about it there are welfare programs I can use.. WTF kind of attitude is that. I do think there should be some sort of safety net to help when you NEED it.