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Poverty Touches Us All…
But There is Hope
Poor families around the world face emergencies every day as they struggle to alleviate the pressures poverty imposes. However, the severity of such realities can be lessened with a measure of stability, not the least of which is a decent, affordable home.

by Shawn Reeves

Poor families around the world endure daily emergencies as the reality of a life in poverty. Pictured here, Mileni Quiñonez, 5, lives with her family in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, Ecuador.
Judy Critchfield lived her first 21 years in a Pennsylvania apple barn. Though it had been renovated into a house, it was hardly adequate. It had no insulation, gaping holes in the floor, and for the first six years of her life, no water or electricity. She never had indoor bathroom facilities.

"It was a rough life," she says, now 41. "The winters were cold, and I was frostbitten at least 10 times. A lot of the physical problems I have today result from the tough times back then."

"Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not being able to go to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom."

Poverty Net, World Bank
Years later she again confronted those childhood experiences as her own family endured substandard conditions: never enough room to live comfortably, and a basement whose constant flooding left the house cold, damp and moldy. For five years, these factors often led to poor health for her children and placed a collective burden on the family.

Around the world more than a billion people share Judy's experience, and many suffer even worse conditions. They face poverty as a daily reality in their lives, as their houses lean like boat wreckage on rotting trusses or blocks. Rodents and insects transmit disease, and
shacks reek of stagnant water.

Families are forced into poverty, often with no control over its causes: natural disaster, war, illness, job loss, divorce. More often, individuals are simply born into it, wielding little
authority over it.

Obviously, hurricanes, floods and other events create emergency situations. Poverty, however, fashions its own emergency-a daily emergency-for those who weather it, according to Dean Wright, professor of sociology at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

"In lives of poverty," says Wright, "once one problem begins to be taken care of, another emerges. For these families, multiple problems occur daily. Families in perpetual poverty have no control over what's happening."

Cliff Brown, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire agrees, saying, "Families in poverty face threats on a daily basis: threats to safety because they can't afford to move to a better neighborhood; threats to health because they lack insurance. Poverty is multifaceted, so it's important that we take a holistic approach when addressing it."

One hardship feeds another. Poverty, for instance, can reduce educational opportunities. In turn, lack of education makes the slope to a living wage slippery. Once individuals successfully negotiate that slope, however, they are dependent on reliable transportation. But, as Wright asks, what happens when the carburetor breaks, when public transportation is as scarce as a balanced diet, when buses stop running at 7 p.m. but the $7-an-hour shift doesn't end until 8 p.m.?

In 2000, 11.3 percent of the U.S. population-some 31 million people-lived in poverty. Yet that figure only hints at the crisis worldwide. The World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day; 2.8 billion on less than $2 a day. While pockets of progress exist in some parts of the world, more people live in poverty today than did a decade ago.


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