I believe that poverty is violence.
In 2006, the social service program I work for served over 9,000 clients experiencing financial crisis. If a family of four is surviving on less than $45,000 annually, then a financial crisis includes circumstances as minor as paying for a car repair or getting the flu. Monday through Friday, between 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM our doors are open to people who need help to meet their basic needs. Some visit us every 30 days for a bus pass; some once a year for a utility bill; and some only once, just to step in from the bitter cold or oppressive Texas heat. Regardless of their reasons for entering our office, we are bound to them, and they to us by poverty. Whether it is chronic or situational, the people who walk through our doors are experiencing a lack of resources.
I believe that poverty is violence because it transcends the federal government’s strict definition of what poverty is—a family of four with an annual income below $20,000. Poverty, as I understand it, is the inability to meet all of one’s basic needs without having to compromise one’s morals. Poverty, as I understand it, is choosing between paying for necessary prescriptions and utility bills. Poverty, as I understand it, causes stress that contributes to the fragmentation of families and the isolation of people from their communities and the ones they love.
I believe that poverty is violence because I believe that meeting your family’s basic needs is a human right. Having to make the impossible decision between putting food on the table and paying your water bill is a form of oppression. Working daily, and diligently, for anything less than a living wage is a form of oppression. Being stigmatized for seeking public assistance because you cannot pay your rent is a form of oppression.
And finally, I believe that poverty is violence because there is enough to meet every persons needs. There are enough resources to ensure freedom from cruel and impossible decisions between meeting basic needs. To silently accept social norms within which the rich grow richer and the poor, poorer silently condones the inhumanity of poverty. I believe that poverty is violence because consistent, nutritious food and secure, comfortable housing should not be thought of as luxuries, but as basic human rights.
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