Recently, I wrote about a missed opportunity to help a mother buy $7.43 worth of baby food. I blew it and I have learned so many valuable lessons from my mistake. But getting involved with helping people in poverty is not easy.

“Bridges Out of Poverty” defines poverty as being without resources: Financial, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual, Physical Health, Support Systems, Relationships/Role Models, Knowledge of Hidden Rules and Coping Strategies. So improving financial resources alone is no guarantee for breaking the strong bonds of poverty. In fact, improving financial resources alone can actually complicate matters. Often, for every extra dollar earned, there is a corresponding dollar of benefits taken away. Breaking the bonds of Poverty is complicated and takes a lot of discipline and dedication from everyone involved.

But any long term strategy for fighting poverty has to include improved physical health care. People in poverty get sick… a lot. For example:

She went back to work at the office because she couldn’t afford to take time off after minor surgery. Her boss was understanding and let her take it easy. The part time job has no benefits and no sick leave, so she could not afford to miss even a day’s pay. Things are tight. The boss told her that he was proud of her and admired her endurance. She smiled when he said it but later that night could not help wishing that just once she could afford to be a little bit weak. – “Sick and Poor” by McCamy Taylor

Another woman is eating ramen noodles for supper: fifth time this week. She knows that all the carbs without protein is bad for her diabetes. She knows she should be eating more fruits and vegetables. But broccoli is $1.25 a bunch (on special) while she can get five packs of noodles for a dollar. Right now, she has fifty cents in her pocket and it has to last her until payday tomorrow. – McCamy Taylor

Lillian Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about Dr. Richard Cooper who practiced medicine for five decades and studied the connection between income and health. He came to the following conclusion: “Poverty makes people sick. They are sicker and they stay sicker,” he said, “despite the best efforts of physicians and hospitals.”

In our area, the local health care and medical community assembled a team called “Emergency Department Navigation.” Their motto is: “We put the care in healthcare.” In other words, they try to bridge the gaps created by various services within the healthcare system. We “dig a little deeper” in our conversations with clients to determine what barriers they have to maintaining wellness and replace those barriers with resources. We meet our clients where they need us.”

For example: A man came into our emergency room. He lived in substandard housing. In order to buy groceries and medications he has to pay a neighbor to drive him to the store. The living area has little or no heat. He has to boil water to eat his food and wash his clothes. Unless he can find a better place to live and less expensive ways to get around, he will continually have serious health problems.

Healing the sick has always been an important part of Jesus ministry: “A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn’t speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all. The crowd was amazed! Those who hadn’t been able to speak were talking, the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again! And they praised the God of Israel.” – Mat. 15:30-31

Jesus also made it clear that healing is part of our faith: “One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” – Luke 9:1-2

So, how should we respond to the needs of the sick and poor all around us? One idea is to mobilize volunteers to drive patients to the hospital or the doctor’s office or shopping. Patients regularly miss appointments for lack of transportation. Many churches have vans sitting on the parking lot unused throughout the week. Volunteers could use the van for patients who have no transportation.

Around the country, a growing number of health care systems and governments are beginning to work on that challenge. Sometimes solutions are simple: Spend a hundred dollars on an air conditioner for a frail man with heart disease living in a walk-up rather than thousands to repeatedly treat him in the hospital. Usually it’s harder but there is one thing in favor of the concept of addressing conditions that make poor people sick rather than treating them afterward. It can be cheaper. — Lillian Thomas

But the challenges of providing health care for the poor are numerous and will need a concerted effort by our entire community, to make a lasting difference. What we simply cannot do… is nothing.

Joe can’t sleep. He breathes OK when he is sitting up but when he tries to lie down, fluid fills his lungs, choking him. Joe got laid off from his job, because his doctor said he could not stand on his feet all day. It was bad for his heart. His unemployment insurance just about covers his rent and food but there is nothing left over for his heart medications that would cost him $250 per month. Each night he struggles to breathe. Once he finally gets to sleep, he wakes up with chest pain. He used to use cheap nitroglycerine tablets but there is a nationwide shortage of generics like nitroglycerine and he cannot afford the more expensive brand name versions. So he lies in bed, propped up on three pillows, staring at the ceiling, willing the pain to subside. Dawn is a long time coming. – McCamy Taylor