March 2, 2007

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Poverty is an unnatural disaster

Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is joining with Catholic Charities USA in their Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, which outlines the aggressive goal of reducing poverty in our country by 50 percent by 2020.

Through local and national efforts, we hope to educate you and call you to action to help our brothers and sisters in need in our neighborhoods and nation. Poverty is a problem that demands everyone’s attention.

In our own local programs to provide crisis relief, such as food, clothing and emergency shelter, we continue to see an increased demand for the most basic necessities of life.

An especially alarming trend is in the demand for the basics by families who are working one or more full-time jobs, but cannot make ends meet.

At our homeless shelters in Indianapolis (Holy Family Shelter) and Terre Haute (Bethany House),we are privileged to care for homeless families, which now make up more than 40 percent of the homeless population. (The other 60 percent is homeless, single men.)

Seven out of 10 people we serve in our homeless shelters are children—innocent victims of poverty.

Who are the poor in our own state of Indiana? I will answer this question first as a social worker: They are children.

Eighteen percent of Hoosier children are living in poor families (defined as a family of four earning less than $20,000 per year), and 37 percent live in low-income families (family of four earning less than $38,000 per year).

They are mentally ill war veterans, the elderly, the uninsured and the uneducated. The poor are often characterized as lazy and content to depend on government programs to meet their financial needs.

We meet very, very few of these people in our 36 Catholic Charities programs because there are very few who fit this description.

Second, I answer the question about the poor as a Catholic. The poor are our brothers and our sisters. The poor are Christ in our midst. As outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer.

Many parts of the body in our city, state, country and world are suffering and, therefore, we are suffering.

The Asian tsunamis and the Gulf Coast hurricanes were natural disasters. Poverty is an unnatural disaster—a disaster of our own making. However, the hope lies right here. We can solve this problem.

We will reach and exceed the goals of the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America when we muster the individual and collective will to do so.

You can begin first by educating yourself.

Excellent information can be found at and

You can give to causes that serve the poor and those that seek to bring people out of poverty for good. You can lobby your local, state and federal legislators to enact policies that help eliminate poverty.

And when we all open our eyes to the poor among us and respond as loving brothers or sisters, poverty will cease to exist.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries.) †

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