Literature study: I approach this study in a multi-disciplinary manner, drawing insights from theology, psychology, social welfare, political sciences, developmental studies, sociology, and related fields.
Case studies (including counselling and interviews, as well as insights gained from a daily reflection group with social workers and pastoral therapists working among the destitute)
I am sensitive to gender issues; therefore I have attempted to steer clear of any specific gender in writing. Where I might have failed to do so, it is unintentional.
11Referring to God
It is recognized that references to God should take into account the importance of inclusive language that recognizes God as having masculine, feminine and “ungendered” characteristics. In this thesis, God is mostly referred to as “he”, in correlation to the dominant tradition known to the author, and in which the author is situated. However, I am sensitive to the importance of inclusive language, as well as cognizant of the debate and developments in this area of theology. Therefore, even where God is referred to in masculine terminology, it must be understood that inclusive language is implied.
Chapter 2 –– Why Are People Destitute?
In the following chapter, I advance the hypothesis that people become destitute because of various reasons that interact dynamically. The deduction follows that a variety of possible reasons, causes or problems lead to destitution. The theory is that some causes and problems are external, meaning they originate from outside the person, an occurrence which is mostly outside the control of her or him. Simultaneously, there are causes that are internal, functioning within a person to motivate certain choices above others. These “external” problems can usually also be classified as “social” or “structural” in nature, while “internal” problems are also termed “individualistic”. These issues are dynamically interactive, and cannot really be separated. This chapter does not attempt to exhaustively explore the possible problems, causes, issues and factors contributing to destitution, but is intended merely to provide an overview of the immensity of the problem of destitution. It also serves as a starting point which following chapters will build upon.
It seems reasonable to assume that few individuals aspire to be destitute – yet many still are! The reasons are often unclear, and often poorly articulated. One popular perspective has been to identify major social problems, such as unemployment. Another perspective focuses on the personalities of destitute people, which are presumed to be defective. Morse (Morse in Robertson & Greenblatt, 1992:4) reacts to this by stating: “Blaming individuals is a narrow, grossly distorted oversimplification of the factors that lead to homelessness destitution”. On the other hand, explanations identifying only social forces are also inadequate. Destitution remains a complex, multi-determined phenomenon.
In literature, as well as in the common view, destitution is seen as primarily a problem of poverty. Several writers have stated that at least one originating source of destitution can be found in the existence of poverty (Morse, 1982; Baxter, E & Hopper, K, 1981; Wood, S.M. 1992). Yet, even though the destitute can be perceived as the poorest of the poor, destitution is also an issue having to do with personal choice and characteristics, as well as a social, cultural, organizational and institutional problem. In dealing with the reasons for destitution, all the different issues, and the way they dynamically interact, will need to be taken into consideration.
2Exploring theories about the causes for destitution
Meyers (1999:82) states that “our understanding of the causes of poverty tends to be in the eye of the beholder. If care is not taken to understand our unwitting biases, our understanding of the causes of poverty tends to be an outworking of our place in the social system, our education, our culture and our personality”.
When talking about destitution, and the reasons people are destitute, the real question should be: “Why do people become so poor that they lack the basic means of human existence?” There are many theories as to why people become destitute; together these different viewpoints should offer a sound understanding of the factors involved in causing destitution. It would also seem that while some factors are more directly involved in causing destitution, others appear to function indirectly by contributing to destitution, while perhaps not directly causing it.
In exploring causes for destitution, a number of theories, models and viewpoints are considered. These must be seen as complementary, each adding something to the other. They also often overlap. From these different theories, a new theory emerges.
2.1Morse: Destitution as the result of different categories of causal factors
Morse (in Robertson & Greenblatt, 1992:3-14) divides the factors causing destitution into six categories, namely cultural, institutional, community, organizational, group and individual factors.
According to Morse (1992:4), cultural factors would include racism, racial discrimination and racial prejudices. As will be evident later on in this chapter, poverty and its associated problems are much more prevalent among the black population of South Africa than the white, even today, 13 years after the demise of apartheid. Cultural factors also include prejudices against the poor because they are judged by the common public as being lazy, or weaklings with alcohol problems. Apathy and the lack of involvement that characterizes the dominant social position regarding destitute people also plays a role: usually resulting in fewer social resources and services being devoted to addressing destitution.
Institutional factors include macro-economic issues that promote and cause poverty, such as a lack of affordable housing, of appropriate social assistance, of mental health care and policies, of adequate substance abuse treatment, of integrated care for previous convicts (who become destitute upon leaving justice systems and prisons), as well as of coordination and cooperation between institutional systems (Morse 1992:6-9).
Community factors concern the breakdown in communities, where communities become poor and marginalized, leading to destitution. Such factors also refer to urban redevelopment policies that aversely affect certain communities and cause them to become poorer.
Organizational factors have to do with the fact that destitute people often struggle to gain “entry” into organizations that could help them, because of issues such as needing a permanent address to qualify for services such as grants, or organizations that will not accept people with a history of mental illness or violence. Amongst organizational factors one comes across service delivery problems that contribute to destitution, because services are often not available, or accessible, or appropriate. Service withdrawal also contributes to destitution: where services are withdrawn from poor communities because people cannot pay, or grants for the delivery of those services are withdrawn.
Family factors are concerned with a person’s dysfunctional early family experiences, or disconnected current family experiences that subsequently cause destitution by isolating people.
Morse (1992:13) defines individual factors as individual characteristics that tend to contribute to destitution, such as alcoholism and drug abuse, poor physical health, mental disorders and defective personalities. These factors contribute to destitution because (1) they tend to limit a person’s coping abilities; (2) diminish social supports and resources (owing to overuse or abuse of, for instance, family help); and (3) consequently make the person more dependent on social institutions and organizations.
Individual factors also include personal choice. According to Morse (1992:13) personal choice as a causal factor in destitution is often misunderstood. Some observers deny it completely; others inappropriately consider it the chief cause of destitution.
Some people do choose shelters and the streets over mental hospitals, boarding homes, SRO’s and intolerable family situations. Similarly, some people choose to sleep on the streets rather than in shelters because of dehumanizing conditions in the shelters. The choice to become destitute, however, is not an affirmation of an ideal lifestyle, but a means to obtain a sense of self control and dignity when faced with a lack of meaningful, safe and viable living alternatives (Morse, 1992:13).
Another aspect of individual factors (according to Morse, 1992:13) is that of adaptation. At some point after a person becomes destitute, a process of adaptation to destitution begins. Gradually the person adjusts to the status of destitution. Much of this adaptive process revolves around daily activities. As Hopper et al. (1982:15) note, the destitute life is a difficult, demanding exercise where survival is an uncertain, demeaning and full-time occupation. “Daily activities are geared towards meeting important basic needs for food, income and shelter while also attempting to assure one’s personal safety from physical harm and harassment.” In addition, Morse (1992:13) states, the absence of showers and clean, fresh clothing quickly diminishes one’s ability to obtain a decent job. The individual may also learn behaviours that perpetuate destitution. “The tactics of survival learned on the streets (be it a consciously cultivated foul odour, or techniques of vigilance and concealment) serve to further isolate and alienate. What is adaptive behaviour on the streets may be ill suited to resuming a settled mode of living” (Morse, 1992:13).
Kraybill (2003:8) adds to individual factors what he terms personal vulnerabilities, and personal feelings that promote destitution. The former vulnerabilities include (1) physical health problems, (2) mental disorders, (3) substance use disorders, (4) trauma and abuse/domestic violence.
Personal feelings would include (1) anxiety, fear, (2) shame, guilt, (3) frustration, anger, (4) depression, psychosis, (5) low energy and motivation, (5) lack of self-efficacy, (6) lack of meaning, identity, belonging and (7) hopelessness. These feelings promote destitution by placing people in a state of mind where they cannot, or do not want to, fight life and its problems any longer.