My experience in counseling people who have problems because of using alcohol and other drugs is that healthy social connections are incompatible with continued use. This Ted talk shifts my personal observation. His conclusion is that the lack of healthy social connections is the root cause of these issues. I find it a compelling idea.
What would happen if we shifted the enormous amounts of money that we spend on incarceration and law enforcement to job creation, addiction counseling, and housing support? What if the people who have addiction issues had help with their relationships to keep families together? Not all people who are chemically or behaviorally dependent are unemployed and homeless. Yet, we know that continued addictive behaviors are difficult for families. Sometimes the pressures split the family down the middle. What support can we offer to those families?
But to do that, we would need to shift our attitude toward the people who are caught up in negative cycles of substance use, joblessness, and despair. We would have to see them as people who deserve our help.
What would it take to shift these attitudes?
- Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support. Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
- Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle. Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
- Homelessness–affordable housing: When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world. There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering. Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
- Job readiness training: Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job. A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue. We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
- Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
- Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them. Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking. We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
- Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation? The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices. They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status. This issue is negative all the way around. The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
- Educational deficits: There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math. What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
- Drug dealing-using culture: Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life. How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
- Massive incarceration of people. Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country. The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs. Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.
It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.
These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.
What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?
Marcelle says that when she was appointed to Reveille she prayed, “Lord, send the people that nobody else wants here to Reveille.” Her congregation is largely poor, often struggling, and wide open to sharing the love of Christ with each other. In addition, they actively seek to love their neighbor. On Sundays they go out to feed people who live with no roof and share a community meal. It may be something simple, but it is always flavored with love and grace. The greatest thing that is offered is hope. Hope that people care; hope that God’s love is real; hope that they are worthy. It’s a powerful ministry.
Feeding the hungry and listening to their needs planted seeds for the ministries which have blossomed from their roots in simple service.
Demetrius* is my friend’s brother. He ‘s been released from prison, has been for seven months. He was serving 5-10 years for possession with intent to distribute in Louisiana. He served five years, he’s on parole, and he still owes a hefty fine.
Let me tell you about Demetrius. We call him D, he’s tall and handsome. He has a quiet sense of humor. He makes fun of himself a lot, but also teases about the society around him. His niece and nephew adore him. D has been learning to cook and clean in appreciation for the roof over his head. The little old widows in the neighborhood absolutely rely on him to help them with heavy lifting, yard work and sometimes just a listening ear. His daughter was born three months after he went in. He doesn’t hear from his baby mama, but her brother stopped by to tell D that he owes five years of child support and the amount is rising every day. The man offered an “opportunity” for D, one which would violate his parole. D declined, and the brother left with a vague promise of negative consequences to D if the child support is not paid.
Release is great news! Yet, he’s so disheartened at not finding a job that my friend isn’t sure how hard he’s still looking. He stays with their sister, and job hunting isn’t really a safe topic for conversation. Little brother reacts badly to what feels more like judgement than concern. What does a family member do in such a circumstance? Avoid? Confront? Both have definite hazards.
THE BIG QUESTION
How do we as a community of faith help?
Hope Restored is in Monroe Louisiana. They are offering a series of classes designed to help people when they regain their freedom. Things like anger management and parenting. AA meets in their facility to aid addiction recovery. There are counselors available to people who come in. They also sponsor a recovery house which provides a place to live while women find their way to employment, sobriety and housing. Their goal is also to sponsor a men’s house. This work is so vital and necessary!!
Prison Fellowship has programs for grassroots ministries to learn more about the difficulties of re-entry and ways to address them.
ROOM FOR MORE
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Yet, a Google search for ministry’s helping prisoner re-entry provides minimal results. There is a huge opportunity here! We can make a huge difference not only in the lives of the former inmate, but in the lives of their children and other family members.
I’d love to hear about what ideas you have. Are you working in a ministry addressing this?
*Not a real name
Poverty and the brain
A researcher in Philadelphia, Martha Farah, has been studying how living with a low SES (socio economic status), or living in poverty can hurt people’s brain capacity. The study is significant because it puts a different light on what is often perceived as a lack of self motivation. When we begin to understand the different ways that being poor hurts men, women, and their children then we are more likely see them as worthy of helping.
Child Well Being effects of poverty
When children are raised in poor homes, they are not spoken to as much as children in higher income homes. What language they hear has a smaller group of words used and the sentences are simpler. Parents struggling to make ends meet spend less time focused on their child’s cognitive development.
In another article Eric Jensen pointed out that children in more affluent homes have more books in the home, and low SES parents are less likely to read to the children in the home. These factors affect vocabulary and reading readiness once the child arrives at school.
Poverty and stress
According to Farah, some of the factors of living in poor neighborhoods are exposure to violence, crowding and other social ills. When the parents are under a lot of stress, they are less affectionate and demonstrate less patience with their children. Jensen’s article points out many different effects of stressed parenting including a greater amount of time the television is on plus less monitoring by parents. Children of poverty are more likely to go into foster care or suffer some neglect. They are often from single parent homes.
Where is the hope?
Jensen’s article is all about hope. Brains are flexible and can be trained. It takes intention and consistency to shape a brain into a healthy response to life. A school which chooses to focus on hope and speaks hope into a child’s life may have a tremendous impact. There are specific strategies that can be used. But, he emphasizes that it is the will of the staff that make the strategies work.
What’s our role?
How can we as citizens help to encourage our schools to help children of poverty develop their brains more?
What would happen if your church decided that every three and four year old within five miles of your church had three books and one adult who read with them once a week? Is that possible? (Most of us do have pockets of poverty within five miles of our church.)
What would happen if five volunteers from your church went and encouraged and celebrated the first graders at your nearest under-performing elementary school at least once a month? Is that possible?
What ideas do you have?
I recently watched a TED talk on poverty. Gary Haugen’s premise is that violence is at the root of much of the world’s poverty. Take care of violence, and economies can grow. It’s as if the linchpin of the whole thing is violence. I’m not sure if that is true. It would be sort of nice if it were, it would give us something definite to focus our energies on. Now, we look at education and transportation and housing and child care and make ourselves dizzy with trying to figure out where to start.
I can’t think of a linchpin for the child welfare system. Yes, the root of it is poverty, and perhaps it is violence as the fertilizer for that root. But, the solution is also part of the problem. How widows and orphans are cared for is a mark of the integrity of a society. When families are fractured and feel abused by the very system that is trying to protect them, we clearly have room for improvement.
Is our first task to find a linchpin? Or is it to start having multiple conversations about defining the problem in order to find solutions that work and work together?