June 23, 2009

Seeking a More Organic Poverty

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:30 am by Editorial Team

Weird title, huh?  I think Wendell Berry’s definition of organic can be applied to a lot of concepts, not just food.  Something is truly “organic” when it includes all of the functioning parts of an organism, which all participate to keep a healthy system in check.

For the longest time, our nation has sought inorganic solutions to the issues of poverty and homelessness, with little success in finding a solution.  Towering public housing projects are reminiscent of the typical big industry farms that are so detrimental to the environment.  By growing one crop or one animal, the farm creates a drastic imbalance in the ecosystem that can only be solved by shipping products and resources thousands of miles to other similar farms.

Our approach to housing has been haphazard.  Our government centralized poverty and homelessness in the 1960’s by creating giant public housing projects that could not be sustained.  When several thousand poor occupied a central location, there were no jobs and those people had to be shipped out to the suburbs for work.  We quickly discovered the ills of concentrated poverty when these projects turned into massive, crime-ridden drug havens.  There was no local economy to support these residents, and these projects all around the country rapidly deteriorated.  For example, Pruitt-Igoe, and infamous project in St. Louis was a $57 million 33-building campus meant to house almost 3,000 families which never reached 60% occupancy and was demolished within 20 years.

The assumption is that these poor residents were somehow inferior.  However, the problem is not one of inferiority, but of poor planning.  A solution must be organic.  Concentrating poverty leads to an inorganic environment which will breed failure every time.

An organic solution will seek to evenly distribute the poor and homeless throughout a community, where they will be a part of a system that can sustain and support them, both economically and socially.  The poor and homeless must have access to an adequate economy, social supports, healthcare, and relationships that will sustain them.  It is just like the body — the hands cannot function without hundreds of other contributors.  The poor cannot be cut off from these resources and supports, or the status quo will be maintained.

The time has come for organic solutions.  We must constantly look for solutions to poverty and homelessness that place people within a healthy organism (environment) that will help sustain them, rather than lead to the rapid deterioration of their life.  It means we cannot ignore the problem of poverty and the calling that each and every one of us have as part of that organism.

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1 Comment

  1. This is an interesting idea. You may have overlooked, however, the NIMBY or “Not In My Backyard” concept which plagues many efforts to move homeless and low-income individuals (especially if they have any type of criminal history) into the community. People who are working hard to sustain certain lifestyles simply do not want to be confronted by homelessness and poverty on a daily basis. I’m sure you can find the odd exception, but by and large, most people living in suburbs seem to be against the idea of being neighbors to a homeless shelter, for example.


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