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Letter to the Editor: Perceptions on poverty are worth challenging

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Dear editor,

I’ve been thinking a lot about perceptions lately. Our perceptions shape our thoughts and feelings toward others, ourselves and our behavior.

Unfortunately, while perceptions are real and enormously powerful, they are also very often wrong. 

In southwest Missouri, there is a perception that people should have no problem keeping or finding a job to support themselves and their families.

The reality we face at the front desk of the Council of Churches is that people who would much rather be able to afford groceries than visit a food pantry are not working because, one, they cannot find child care or, two, they do not have reliable transportation. 

There is a perception that people on assistance have embraced it as a lifestyle. The reality is that last month, 27% of our guests had never visited a food pantry before. The rising cost of groceries, rent and fuel has only recently outpaced their ability to feed their families without emergency support. If the last five months are any indication, this number will only increase. We are seeing a 46% increase in the number of families in need compared to the same time last year.

There is a perception that people who visit Safe to Sleep Women’s Shelter are homeless by choice. Or that they are young, rebellious, substance-abusing runaways. The reality is that most women we serve are older – average age 46 – and are experiencing homelessness for the first time. Many have jobs, cars and bank accounts. What they do not have is an affordable place to live. 

There is a perception in southwest Missouri that a lot of foster families are profiting from state support for those children. The reality is that Missouri ranks 49th out of the 50 states in terms of financial stipends for foster families.

There are too many children in need of care and too few families to support them. The families that open their homes to entire sibling groups are often the least financially able to accommodate additional mouths to feed, but often the most dedicated to providing a loving home. 

There is a perception that discipline is a problem for teachers or administrators to solve. The reality is that students who come from a food insecure, under-resourced or dysregulated home stand little chance of functioning optimally in the classroom, no matter what interventions the public school system attempts. 

There is a perception that the poverty level in Springfield does not directly affect you. To quote my predecessor, Rev. Mark Struckhoff, that is like saying: “I’m awfully sorry there’s a hole in your end of the boat.”

There is a cost of doing nothing to support our most vulnerable neighbors. In many ways, our community is already paying for it. (I am guessing “geographic isolation” is not the real reason we don’t have a Trader Joe’s). I’d like to work with you to change that. We are #bettertogether.

—Jaimie Trussell, president and CEO of Council of Churches Inc.

Comments

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jake@carchbay.com

Wow...great insight Jaimie, thanks for sharing

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