By Don Hutchinson

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize that something serious has slipped by you almost unnoticed, or fell through the cracks because you were busy with something else? I realized that had happened to me when I headed for the website of one of Canada’s most reliable sources on poverty and homelessness.  It seems the website for Canada’s National Council of Welfare (NCW) ( has disappeared, along with federal government funding for the “arm’s length from government” body that has advised Canadians and government on poverty and homelessness since 1969 (although first established as an in-house government body in 1962 to facilitate different government bodies working together on the issues of poverty and homelessness). I must have been busy with something else in April 2012 when the budget documents revealed cutting the $1 million a year in funding.

The longstanding nature of the NCW through successive governments bore witness to the fact that poverty and homelessness, like many issues, is neither an issue of the political left nor the political right. Rather, there may be different approaches to responding or proactively engaging the issues while recognizing that those who live in the low income levels of our society are equally Canadians, among our most vulnerable citizens in their need. Poverty and homelessness are complex issues that seem to defy simple solution. And people are made in the image of God; not to be solved, but to be respected as our “neighbours.”

For the Christian, Jesus famously identified that loving our neighbours requires each of us to be a “good neighbour.” At minimum I would imagine this requires respecting the Prime Minister as much as Kevin two doors down on my street or Daryl camped hat-in-hand on a busy Ottawa sidewalk seeking the kindness of passers-by.  There may be different measures of engaging with each of these neighbours, but there can be no denying their humanity and our need to be neighbourly.

The Christian individual and the Church – both congregationally and through various ministries – have our place to care for those who are broken or in need as an act of worship and service unto Jesus.

The non-Christian and the government also have roles to play in caring for those struggling with the necessities of life.  The humanity of those in need cannot be negated. Neither can their “residence” within the geography of city, province and nation.

Over the years, the NCW has produced numerous reports. The subject matter included: a national anti-poverty strategy; aboriginal children and youth; identifiable poverty lines and Canadian statistics; the economic cost of poverty; the needs of single mother families; and others. Most recently in 2011, The Dollars and Cents of Solving Poverty offered a brief but comprehensive examination of the current cost of poverty to the Canadian economy and recommendations for the role of government in reducing those costs through practices of good governance and sound policy.

On this topic, Jesus is most often quoted as having said “The poor you will always have with you.” While often stated in a defeatist tone, suggesting there is nothing we can do about it, I prefer to think that as part of Jesus’ comprehensive body of teaching this statement is a challenge to us that compels our neighbourly response to the poor. We best learn to live with, engage with and care for those who are members of our society, part of our culture, and vital shapers of our collective humanity.

For those less inclined to consider Jesus’ words to be of value in this area, there is a sentiment often attributed to Aristotle or Ghandi but certainly also echoed by various others. The measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. One of the clearly worded and thoughtful statements to this effect was made by former U.S. Senator and Vice-President (and the presidential candidate who famously lost to Richard Nixon) Hubert Humphrey, who said:

…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

I regret having been too busy in April. I’m glad it’s not too late to write on this as the poor are still with us. And, I invite you to assess your part in being both a neighbour to those in the dawn or twilight of life who also find themselves living in the shadows at the margins of our society as well as to engage in our collective part in making sure that the loss of the NCW does not lead to our government – in a democracy it is our government – embarking on a path that may lead to our society failing this crucial moral test.

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