The pandemic laid bare what Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic and those of us in our community who serve the under-resourced have known for years: that poverty is at the heart of poor health, inaccessible, affordable housing, transportation challenges, homelessness, lack of education and child care, low-wage jobs, poor nutrition and hunger, access to vital resources, and insufficient agency to escape its terrible grip. A Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by Levi Hospital in 2019 identified poverty as the number one health.
Poverty, and its downward spiraling consequences, is complex. Poverty is about more than money or housing or food. It is about knowing how to navigate through a system that seems to throw up barriers at every turn. How does a single parent get to work at a minimum wage job without transportation or dependable child care? How does a chronically ill person maintain a place to live, get to appointments, and afford medications and treatments? How do impoverished grandparents who are raising their grandchildren find the support and help they need to keep a roof over their heads and care for the children? How does someone who comes from generational poverty learn how to escape? How do those suddenly in situational poverty manage to not slip off the edge of a never-ending cliff of cut off utilities, eviction, unemployment, and overwhelming losses they’ve never experienced before?
These are the questions that we, as a community, must grapple with. The solutions are as complicated as the causes of poverty, but one thing is abundantly clear: we must come together in order to affect real change. This requires public and private sector partnerships. It requires that agencies and organizations, with strong and open communication, complement each other’s focus so that those in poverty can receive wraparound services that facilitate a change of circumstances and change of perspective.
CCMC was founded on the premise that when people are given paths out of crushing circumstances, we all benefit. We use a term at CCMC that summarizes the daunting task faced by those who live in poverty: tyranny of the moment. It is almost impossible to plan for a future when every second of every day is steered, not by a strategic plan, but by the crisis immediately in front of you — the tyranny of the moment. Our community can also find itself overshadowed by the tyranny of the moment that blinds us to the benefits we will all receive when those in poverty have the opportunity to move toward sustainable stability.
Our tyranny of the moment — the urgency we all feel when trying to solve the overwhelming crisis of poverty and homelessness — can blind us to the opportunity we have to collaborate. Together, each of us has something of value to contribute to alleviate the complicated problems of poverty. The private sector of individuals, businesses, organizations, congregations, community associations and groups brings a cornucopia of knowledge, resources, creativity, and expertise. The public sector of government and agencies bring powerful resources and programs to provide safety nets and steppingstones so people find assistance that can move from soul-crushing poverty to soul-sustaining stability.
Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, but he also did everything within his power to help them find fish, bread, justice, and life. I close with a quote that is a collection of teachings found in the Hebrew Talmud as our community addresses poverty: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Love justly now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to finish the task, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Kim Carter is the executive director of Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic.