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Looking Beyond The Myths: What Is The Best Way To Help The Poor?

Updated on February 2, 2014
Brother, can you spare a dime?
Brother, can you spare a dime? | Source

Can You Spare a Dime? Can You Spare Some Time?

Recently, a question was posed that many individuals weighed in on. The question was "Is giving money the only way to help poor people?" The responses all came from people who, from what I can tell, mean well. Unfortunately, many of the answers have been formed in the minds of people who do not understand the complexities involved in creating an individuals impoverished situation in the first place. The fact is, there is not just a single cause. Every one of us have our own personal struggles and successes that have led us to our current point in life. "Poor people" are the same way. I used quotation marks for a reason. The first thing we need to change is how we view the "have nots". We have the tendency to separate "them" from "us" as though they are a separate species. We try to lump those less fortunate into one big group of "other". This often is not intentional, however, this makes it more difficult to see each struggling individual as a unique human being with unique situations. Once we realize each person has their own personal story of struggle, we begin to see that there is no single cut and dry solution to the problem of poverty. So, how do we even begin to learn these stories? How do we find out about each individual's needs? We do this by giving our time. You don't have to be a counselor, social worker, or a member of a clergy to spend some time getting to know a person in need. Living in survival mode, many who experience poverty must do things that are demoralizing and dehumanizing; things such as begging for enough change just to eat. Something as simple as reaching out and being a friend can mean a world of difference to them.

Show me the money?
Show me the money? | Source

Myths About The Poor

There are many myths about why people living in poverty remain in poverty. Many of these myths are perpetuated in order to offer an excuse as to why programs for those in need should be cut or discontinued.

1. Myth: Those who use welfare programs lack the ambition to better themselves. Fact: Over half of those who receive welfare benefits no longer receive them after 1 year. Within 4 years, 85% no longer receive benefits. Many people who receive these benefits need them temporarily to help support themselves and their families while either working on a certification or degree or looking for a better job.

2. Myth: People who are poor just need to work harder. Fact: Two-thirds of people who live in poverty work more than one job. The working poor actually spend more hours working per week than their wealthier counterparts according to The Economic Policy Institute.

3. Myth: If I give money to the poor, they will just spend it on drugs or alcohol. Fact: Alcohol and drug abuse affects all classes, but studies have shown that it is more prevalent among middle class high school students than any other group. The assumption that because a person is poor or homeless, they are most likely addicts is false.

4. Myth: A great deal of our tax dollars go to support welfare programs. Fact: Only 1% of the Federal Budget goes toward welfare programs. The majority of our tax dollars go toward our country's National Defense.

The fact is, the majority of people living in poverty do not want to live off of government assistance forever. They have dreams of being able to independently support their families just like everyone else. Many lack community support or family to help them achieve their goals. Many feel like higher education is beyond their means so they work 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. Many are living one paycheck away from ending up on the street. Those who are living on the streets for one reason or another have a much harder time finding employment. Employers want to hire people with stable addresses, phone numbers, and reliable transportation. People who are living on the street not only lack these fundamental resources, but they often lack time. Yes. Time! Everything is scheduled around survival. You must be in line at the soup kitchen an hour before the soup kitchen opens if you want to eat. So it takes a few hours to get lunch and again in the evening for dinner. You must wait in line to receive pretty much any type of charity. Often, showers are not available everyday to those who need them. What do you do if you manage to score a job interview? You will need to shower. You will need nice clean clothes. If you are able to live in a shelter, you must be in the shelter before dark to get a bed. Because of shelter rules, the wait for a shower, and the hours in line for food, you now have a very limited amount of time left to make yourself available for work. Survival is a full time job.

Rev. Hugh Hollowell - Relationships Can Change The World

Relationships Can Change The World

Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins, a faith based non-profit organization in Raleigh, NC, explains during a Ted Talk about how having a network of close relationships can mean the difference between getting through financial hardships or ending up on the street. His goal as he works with his friends living on the street is to build the much needed community many of them need in order to survive or to finally become housed and employed. Everyone needs community.

By: Traci Ruffner

Helping Those In Need

Have you ever taken the time to sit and talk to someone living on the street?

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    • Traci Ruffner profile imageAUTHOR

      Traci Ruffner 

      4 years ago from Raleigh, North Carolina

      Thank you so much for your comments =)

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      4 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      You have cleared up many myths regarding those that are poor and have done an outstanding job.

      I am sharing this hub with others in hopes that they too will have a better understanding of this huge problem. Thanks so much. ~ Audrey

    • kerlund74 profile image


      4 years ago from Sweden

      Wonderful hub. In my country we have the same issue, not exactly the same situation ofcourse, but what you write about can be applied in some ways. For example in the way people see "poor people". Important issue, well written!

    • Goodpal profile image


      4 years ago

      Traci, you are really a very thoughtful person who thinks about the society and the world.

      Democracy is all about people coming together, sharing, debating and solving problems through their "involvement." If you elect someone he/she is your representative and "has to" listen to you. It is a step towards anarchy if he/she does not listen, care or misuses his/her position to make money or play favors.

      If corporate media and politicians can't understand why people are protesting they are more concerned about self interest which normally lies in the status-quo. It means you stay with your problems. But it is also equally true that when masses really wake-up, even the mightiest has to run for cover. People in power often forget this history lesson.

    • Traci Ruffner profile imageAUTHOR

      Traci Ruffner 

      4 years ago from Raleigh, North Carolina

      You have a very good point. If politicians were not available to be bought, it would be a non issue. When people join together to demand change, the media and politicians make them look like law breakers, anarchists, and dirty hippies. I know this. I have been one of those "dirty hippies". Right now in NC we still have masses of people showing up to protest with what the President of the NAACP has labeled "Moral Mondays". There have been over 900 arrests of peaceful protesters. The majority of those arrests have been thrown out of court so far, which is good.

    • Goodpal profile image


      4 years ago

      Thanks for responding to my question as well as the hub. I would like to respond to the last sentence of your response here:

      "We all need political empowerment, but until we own multi-billion dollar corporations that will enable us to buy politicians, looks like we are out of luck."

      Why isn't there fierce debate about "politicians ready to be sold"? It is here that ordinary people who elected them become "dis-empowered." The elected representatives exist in democracies to voice concerns of people who elect them, including even the poorest ones. They must step forward to help when people need them. As long as this is being tolerated or accepted as "business as usual", the situation will stay the same for ordinary people. What is needed is not money, but unity among the people to demand change.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Awesome hub! Thanks for pointing out both the myths and the facts. It's been many years since I was involved in filming a documentary about the homeless with some of my college friends. I was only the driver to get the crew where they needed to be, but I went with them on the streets and in the shelters so I could learn more by actually being there. So many of them told us the same types of things you did in this hub. You are so right in saying that each one of them is a person with a unique story about what led to their situation.

    • Traci Ruffner profile imageAUTHOR

      Traci Ruffner 

      4 years ago from Raleigh, North Carolina

      @Goodpal: I didn't realize your question was from 2011. Wow! I think one problem I had with responses is the idea that you shouldn't give poor people money. It is being assumed that it will just be misused. Empowerment is definitely a key to helping, but they do need money also. Also, as you pointed out, since 2008 we have seen a great increase in those with education and skills who can no longer find employment. How do we solve this issue? Everyone talks about creating more jobs, but the majority of jobs that have been created since the beginning of the recession have been minimum wage jobs. That isn't good enough. When you see stats reported in the media about how there has been a decline in unemployment, people think "that's great! There must be more jobs available!" A big part of the problem is that people are giving up, not that they have found employment. You hit the nail on the head, by the way. Poor people are not to blame for the state of the economy. It is all of the money we have poured into "wars" over the past 2 decades. We all need political empowerment, but until we own multi-billion dollar corporations that will enable us to buy politicians, looks like we are out of luck.

    • Goodpal profile image


      4 years ago

      Traci, you have nicely summed up the "Status Quo" thinking about the poor and poverty.

      Unfortunately, it is fashionable to blame poor people for everything - crimes, drugs, lawlessness, and so on and divert attention from the real issues. So I wrote a hub to highlight the other side of the story "Who says the poor are simply useless!". Written a somewhat light note, it also touches upon things wrong with the modern societies.

      Since May 2011 when I asked the question "Is giving money the only way to help poor people?" there are 239 answers till today. Not a single one says that money can solve poverty. What all thoughtful responses tend to imply is that "empowerment" is the key to helping people in the long run.

      Skills and education are typically talked about measures to make people capable so that they can look after themselves. But what do you do when there are lots of people like Craeft who have skills and are full of desire and ready to work?

      They need "political empowerment" so that their voice reaches where it matters and have say in framing the policies that affect their lives. Here you have to look at the economic system and its foundations, rather than taking it as given and "fixed." The very fact that there is a huge welfare program in the US tells that something is fundamentally wrong with the politico-economic system. In fact, size of the welfare machinery should actually shrink with each passing year if the US is actually "developing" year after year.

      The trillion dollar "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan going on for over a decade are is another example of messed up priorities.

      I would like to throw two basic questions: What is development? Should development basically revolve around people or the GDP growth alone?

      Thanks for focusing attention on people's sustainable well-being.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderful hub Traci. Yes there are too many widely believed myths surrounding "the poor". In fact our government in Australia is in the process of reviewing the welfare system and make it more difficult to access unemployment benefits and disability benefits. A lot of the comments in the media make it obvious that these misconceptions you mention are widely held views among those "better off". I agree that enabling the homeless and poor to have a network of close contacts could be a big help in easing their plight. We are all just an accident, or lay-off away from being "needy". Voted up.

    • Craeft profile image


      4 years ago from Grand Blanc, MI

      Well written.

      Thank you for that.

      As someone who is VERY close to being on a park bench, it's good to see some facts in relation to impoverished citizens. As I stated in my comment on the question to which you referred, my girlfriend and I are doing everything we can to bring a couple bucks in but getting nowhere. She's trying to sell her wares and I'm trying to get some freelance design work. We prefer that over hand-outs, but it's like we might as well be asking for hand-outs. The return is about the same (zero). Add to the fact that she has MS and we're trying to cope with that and it prevents her from getting any kind of work (she was fired from her last job due to medical absences in relation to MS - ironically, she was working in one of the largest specialty pharmacies in the country).

      So I continue to try to find a job and continuously get turned down... even for retail (even though I was the top employee in the area when I worked at Borders).

      I think my biggest complaint is when people tell me I'm not trying hard enough. Nothing raises my ire more than hearing those words.


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