Friday, September 27, 2013

The Need for Community

Here in San Antonio, we run into a lot more beggars on the streets than we did in Sioux City.  My girls have realized for a long time, as a result of homeschool trips we took while living on the east coast, that big cities have more beggars. My youngest asked me yesterday why that is.

I assume there's probably a very simple, logical, "duh" answer to that question, but I couldn't come up with it at that moment.  We talked about how big cities just have more people overall -- how people who need work will come to big cities where there is more work and stay if they don't find any -- she was satisfied for the moment, but I kept wondering.

I started trying to picture a panhandler in my husband's hometown.  Lindsborg, Kansas: a cute, little,
artsy Swedish community in central Kansas, where some of my in-laws still live.  Population of about 3,500.  If a haggard-looking man showed up downtown holding a sign saying, "Homeless and Hungry . . . Please Help", how would the people there react?

I'm not sure, of course.  A lot of people would probably react like there do here -- either ignore him or quietly slip him a five and walk on.  But from my experience in Lindsborg, I suspect that it wouldn't be too long before somebody like my father-in-law would stop and engage him in conversation. Hey, buddy.  Where you from?  What's your story? What can we do to help you? Or a business-owner might call a police officer to come have that conversation with him.  Eventually, he'd get connected to whatever local agency there was to help him out (probably TACOL, The Associated Churches Of Lindsborg).

But I don't imagine the locals would just allow somebody to continue begging on their streets. Whether from right motive or no, people would have the attitude that this just isn't done in our town. If someone is homeless and hungry in our town, they get taken care of.

Anonymity is required for street-begging to work. That's probably why there are more beggars in big cities -- it's easy to be anonymous. In a small, tight-knit community, you are known and something gets done for you.

The reading that I've done on poverty talks a lot about the effects of community life on long-standing poverty. I suspect that the generational poor in our country would benefit more from genuine community being established with them than from more money being thrown at them.

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