Monday, August 26, 2013

Three Levels of Neediness

One of my most frequently visited posts has been the April, 2011, blog on “Two Levels of Poverty”, comparing the lifestyle of most of the world’s needy with the financially distressed poor often found in the U.S.

Last Saturday several of us met with Elroy Miller, social work prof at EMU, to discuss ways of helping people with chronic financial problems in a way that doesn’t create unhealthy dependency. As I’ve reflected on that meeting I’ve come up with the following three categories of neediness.

The Dysfunctionally Needy.
These most dependent and difficult cases involve people who lack the means and/or the motivation to do what is needed to survive without constant care. Many may be mentally or physically ill or disabled, or for a variety of reasons lack the capacity to take care of themselves. But lest we think only in “us” versus “them” categories, we could include young children and the incapacitated aged in this group as well. Certainly in the past, and likely sometime in the future, we have all been, or will be, unable to function on our own. In any case, every human being of whatever age or capacity is a precious child of God who is worthy of our concern and able to add value to our lives in spite of their state or condition. If people in this category have no close families or friends to care for them they must rely on help in the form of food from soup kitchens and food banks, on homeless shelters for housing and other social services assistance to survive.

The Mysfunctionally Needy. This group may experience constant financial distresses, but does manage to function by cobbling together whatever help they need from whatever sources available. Hopefully, this group is in transition from being largely dysfunctional to becoming optimally functional members of their communities. In this phase, they often remain dependent on a variety of social services like food stamps, subsidized housing, free clinics and other charitable or governmental assistance programs in order to survive. Unfortunately, if they do work, they often have menial jobs with low wages and few or no benefits, and may in fact have to hold down several part time jobs to make ends meet. Due to lack of skills, education, opportunity or motivation many may remain stuck in this category for most of their lives.

The Wellfunctionally Needy. Even the best of us will always be dependent on others in significant ways. There is no such thing as any of us being completely “self-sufficient”. But ideally members of this group are a part of communities in which they are giving and receiving in somewhat equal (though not identical) ways. They recognize that everyone has gifts and assets as well as needs and disabilities, and that each child of God is both worthy of care and capable of contributing to others interdependently and significantly. People in this group may continue to benefit from government programs and services in the form of schools, roads, mail delivery, social security and countless other government funded programs, but they are responsible in their payment of taxes and fees that substantially fund such benefits.

In summary, we are each somewhere on a continuum from lower to higher levels of functioning, and should all contribute as much as we can as active members of interdependent communities.
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