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Anti-Poverty Week – seeing the signs of crisis



BY ANTHONY CASTLE

I see these little things in my neighbourhood and notice small signs of change. I watch the shoplifters glide through gaps in checkouts most Monday nights while I buy groceries. They walk quickly, with stoic looks on their faces, hands jammed into hooded tops, backpacks hugged tightly.

They’re mostly teenagers, and the bored supermarket employees typically ignore them. The security guards pick their battles. When they do stop a shoplifter, the person in question offers a denial but typically dumps chocolate or gift cards onto the counter and storms off.

More and more people are moving through the gaps of the checkouts differently these days. They aren’t teenagers taking knick-knacks or snacks as much. Nor are they as uncaring. They are older more often, with a different look on their faces, and I’ve realised something about what they are stealing. They are taking groceries. They need food. 

I live in a gentrifying area, and the signs of change are everywhere. Suburbs that have traditionally been social housing and working-class blocks are being bought up. Apartments are going up where asbestos-clad factories once stood. The old corner stores that smelled of linoleum and newspapers are becoming cafes and salons.  

“I see the signs of change, but increasingly, I see the signs of crisis as well.” 

It isn’t just the demographics that are changing. The number of rough sleepers who line the shore is growing, and the number of vans and cars parked by the beach is increasing. Curbs are cluttered with belongings as tenants clean out their houses, for-sale signs popping up in front yards.

I see the implications of gentrification, but I see the impact of poverty also. I see the signs of change, but increasingly, I see the signs of crisis as well. 

Poverty is real

We can sometimes forget about poverty in the national conversation. Poverty often isn’t a news story until it affects the middle class, and even then, it is spoken about in terms of economics and politics, subject to discussion and debate.

The crisis in my neighbourhood is reflective of many of the issues across the nation right now. The Salvation Army’s social justice stocktake shows that people in my area are most concerned about mental health, housing affordability, homelessness, addiction and family violence – issues exacerbated by the factors the country currently faces. 

Inflation is at its peak. Wages and welfare have been stagnant for years. Interest rates have been climbing, and more than a million households are heading towards a mortgage cliff.

These factors have converged to affect where people live and how they live at all, increasing the number of those in need. People are experiencing need who haven’t experienced it before. 

Remember the poor

There is a Bible verse that has stuck in my mind for years, often when I think about poverty, from Galatians chapter 2, verse 10: “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”

The context of this passage is that early church leaders had been arguing about theology and what the church looked like. The Bible has thousands of references to the plight of the poor, its core narrative one of liberation and justice, and among all the discussions and debates among early church leaders there is this simple instruction from the heart of their faith – remember the poor. 

“... remember that poverty can affect anyone.”

We can forget the poor in our country until we realise that need can affect everyone. My partner and I go over six years of budgets to discover that our costs have doubled in that time. We pay more for bread, electricity and a home than we ever have. I buy my groceries each Monday night, watching the small increases on the docket become larger increases, and I think about the little things around me. I look for the shoplifters now, sympathising with my neighbours, wondering if I should offer to buy them the food they need. Wondering if I can afford it. 

The big things matter. There are market forces and policies that create poverty and entrench it. Poverty isn’t necessary in a society as affluent as ours. As the Bible says, “However, ideally, there shouldn’t be any poor people among you”(Deuteronomy chapter 15, verse 4, The Voice Bible translation).

We shouldn’t forget the larger factors that are creating crisis for so many right now, but we should also remember to look for the little things, for those neighbours around us more and more in need, and remember that poverty can affect anyone. 

 

To access the Anti-Poverty Week resources kits, go to mySalvos here







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