If we follow the Tier 1 platform data to see how CarePortal is primarily used, we understand that the families encountered have immediate financial needs. There is a tangible item or cost and the effects of CarePortal are largely economic. There is always an intention to use the Care Connections as an opportunity to join with families and have meaningful connections that aren’t measured by money. However, it is also important to understand the population that CarePortal serves and some of the common circumstances that response teams are likely to encounter when joining with families who have financial constraints.
CarePortal's Connection to Poverty
There is a natural connection between poverty and homelessness as simple economic barriers are the most critical factors contributing to homelessness. Some of those factors include lack of affordable housing, low wages, and unemployment. For many who live below or close to the poverty line, with one unexpected expense or financial setback, they find themselves facing homelessness at some point in their journey. Even for those who have not experienced homelessness, it is often a feared circumstance that they are mindfully trying to avoid.
So, it makes sense that homelessness is one of the most common topics in which a church responder may want to gain understanding. Other common circumstances that may be encountered when serving families facing poverty include Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence. While not all families served through CarePortal are living in poverty, many are facing situations where they need financial assistance to avoid family breakdown. Poverty is not a proven indicator of violence or abuse, but several studies have shown that physical abuse and substance abuse are more common among those with lower economic status. So, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on those as the top 3 most common and complex circumstances that most response teams will come across in their CarePortal ministries.
Serving Families Well
So, what does it look like to serve a family facing poverty? Most families that are involved with CarePortal have experienced what is referred to as Survival Mode (about 10min into this video, you can hear a full explanation of survival mode). They are faced with daily challenges and choices and for the sake of their families, they make the decisions that may seem unhealthy to some but for them, the decisions are their best efforts to keep their family together, surviving from one day to the next. Many families that you may know and are a part of, have support systems that ease the stress and help to reduce the risks of someone operating in survival mode. This type of communal support is intended to be created through CarePortal. If The Church is there to wrap around families and help carry their burdens, more families would be able to remain together and be strengthened through connection.
The reality is that some church members are not always prepared for what families are faced with each day and aren’t sure how to join in the face of shame, isolation, and judgment felt by many families facing poverty. These feelings aren’t as pronounced around the barriers of employment and food insecurity because those things are expected and perhaps easier to navigate. However, those feelings are typically present around issues of the three topics that we want to dive into here. Click on each topic for a printable one-pager that provides a broad overview to help someone become more knowledgeable and prepared when meeting families that either have experienced or are currently experiencing:
This information is offered as a quick tool to provide general understanding. There is no replacement to hearing the actual accounts from those who have walked the path. Keep in mind that asking someone about their past or getting to know the depths of their current situation is a privilege and that information is not owed to you. Click here for an overview and suggested approach to someone’s backstory. Because you may not know any firsthand accounts and because each situation is different, we hope that the one-pagers will jump start your learning and provide you with more general information. With more understanding comes compassion. It is important that someone feels your compassion and recognizes that you are attempting to connect with them on a human level.
This area of understanding may not be a challenge for some responders. However, if you find it difficult to understand a family’s circumstances, unfortunately your judgment of them and/or their situation may be inevitable. The hope is that by reading the one-pagers, it has helped you see that there isn’t an easy way out for them. Once you take perspective and can begin to see beyond what your own experience tells you, you are likely to connect with them and see them for more than what their circumstances suggest. Hopefully, you will begin to steer away from the “If you would just…” mentality and recognize that you don’t know more about their situation than they do. Even when you can’t identify with their “why”, you may be able to relate with the human desire of protection, control, or self-preservation that allows you to join on a friend level.
As you read more about these three topics, you may find them to be anxiety provoking because they have the potential to place you amid risky situations. While the goal is to see them as individuals, it is also true that joining with the person sometimes means joining the circumstances surrounding that person. Homelessness, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence can all intertwine with Poverty through a corresponding relationship, and to survive, some decide to do things for money that they don't want to do. There may be a sacrifice of their body, mind, or spirit that causes them to stay in an unsafe situation or to engage in criminal or immoral activity. It would never be suggested for you to become involved in trying to rectify their situation by becoming so close to the circumstance that you feel threatened or unsafe. It is important for you to have a covering through your response group where you are sharing your physical and emotional challenges and weighing the risks.
Your involvement should have boundaries and you must make the decision of whether to be involved and on what level. Communicating those boundaries as you build trust will be essential. What will showing up for them look like? If you’re trying to be in their life but choose at a critical moment to not show up, you’ve lost some trust and repairing may be more difficult the next time around. Let yourself off the hook and expect that you will make mistakes and there will likely be hurdles and missteps along the way. The one-pagers aren’t going to prevent that from occurring. But the one-pagers might provide a new perspective that supports you in overcoming an instinct to fix or judge. The parent/family might also have instincts and learned behaviors such as an expectation to feel abandoned in their time of need. It’s up to you and them to define what the relationship will look like and how to best be there for one another. Ultimately, the friendship will be heavily built on your acceptance of them and how you’re able to show them that they are valued by you despite their circumstances.