stephen colbert

My thoughts on poverty right now

New-Year-Monsters
Dear All Of You. It’s been a while. Here’s what’s on my mind.

My opinions on many things change constantly now that I’m a full time counselor, especially about poverty, our country, socioeconomics.. stuff like that. Working with kids and their families in their homes and in day treatment has given me incredible insight into why some kids act they way they do. It has also given me insight into things like poverty and classism, and how much those things can affects a person’s mental health.

I used to generally believe that people need to do more to help poor people (but that right there is an abstract concept with no clear application). And presto, I work in an industry funded by taxpayer dollars (which does not take private insurance as payment, and therefore services only those eligible for tax-funded programs like Medicaid), attempting to help people improve their own lives and raise their kids with a better sense of personal responsibility and work ethic and blah blah blah.. I and my coworkers are a living and breathing example of how America does indeed help the poor. My experience has given me informed opinions about what Stephen Colbert waxed on about. Strangely, or not, this industry is full of employees who are Christians (take that for what it is). Stephen Colbert still had some good points about following Christ’s example and helping the poor. We are commanded to do that, just like Jesus said. Trust me, if you have a job and pay taxes, you’re helping the poor already. Of course, it’s probably more the Christian thing to do to help the poor of your own volition rather than wait for the government to garnish your paycheck (or to take a paycheck for it like my coworkers and me). And it’s important to consider that throwing tax dollars at the phenomenon of “poverty” hasn’t changed the fact that people are still poor. So, what’s not working (a bit of reality therapy here)?

fish-mural
I want to help people not with just financial assistance, but with new ideas about what they themselves can do to change their own course. I’m a fan of the “teach a man to fish” end of things. But many of the people I serve as a counselor don’t want to learn “how to fish,” ‘cause once they do, their providers will say, “Look. You can fish!! You don’t need me to give these to you anymore!!” Trouble is, in this economy, those proverbial “fish” (jobs with living wages) are scarce. And try as they might, it's harder in general for my clients to break into the workforce 'cause of racism, classism, cultural differences or any number of fickle prerequisites.

Still, it is remarkable to me the abuses I’ve seen done by people in my client base to their systems of government aid. I’ve seen so many falsifications on Medicaid applications, nondisclosures of income, reports of “medical” conditions that anyone can fake or even invent that it makes me wonder why we have these assistances in place at all. Shoot, my brother is a tax auditor and he sees rich people and corporations make the same falsifications on their own disclosures at tax time. When I see a family living hand to mouth on government money drop a couple thousand dollars on a giant television that takes up half a wall, I’m like.. Wait a sec.. Aren’t you guys hungry? Weren’t you just asking me to help you get shoe and clothing donations for your kids? WTF is up with that TV?!

People everywhere, no matter how rich or poor, have a proclivity to lie, cheat and steal ‘cause it’s easier than working and telling the truth. The clients I work with know exactly what to tell me so I’ll write a good report and say that the treatment is working but they still need it for a while longer. If I can focus on the kids, not just their parents, maybe I can get some new ideas into their heads and they’ll make different decisions than their parents made and start ending various cycles. Stephen Colbert was likely right. The only way to stop poverty and end this massive contributing factor to what our culture perceives are mental health issues is to follow Christ’s example, not just in the giving, but in the way we receive as well. There is only one Bible, and nowhere in it does it tell people to lie around and take while everyone else works.

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It’s easy for me to tell a client “work hard and your life will improve,” but in many cases, while generally true, it takes so much more than words, a smile and a clipboard to help a family affect some positive changes. It takes lots of time, lots of learning, building relationships, patience and a thorough understanding of what it means to grow up poor. Poverty isn’t the only contributing factor to mental health issues. And for Pete’s sake, sometimes we’re not necessarily dealing with people who are insane. If my training is correct, and if behaviors stem from legitimate needs, than my 14-year-old client who was arrested for stealing personal hygiene items wasn’t crazy or insane. He was just trying to meet his needs ‘cause his parents don’t wake till 3 in the afternoon or do jack squat to provide for him. I want to see what alternatives to a lifestyle exist before I tell a person or an entire family to *POOF!* CHANGE! My insight into the mental health and juvenile justice systems is deeper these days, giving me a much more informed opinion about my experience as a camp counselor and the numerous reasons why the kids I looked after were there.

More soon, everyone. Thanks and love..

John
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