Poverty Relief vs. Poverty Alleviation

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At BridgeBuilders we are dedicated to the alleviation of those conditions that create and sustain poverty in the twenty-first-century urban context. This differs greatly from poverty relief. Under the rubric of relief, the goal is to provide relief from the effects of situational poverty that potentially threaten one’s survival such as providing food, water, and shelter. Relief focuses on the external conditions or situations that are creating real human need. Sometimes relief is the only appropriate response, especially in the wake of natural disasters.

However, alleviation aims to address the underlying causes of chronic or generational poverty. Here, the focus is less on the external conditions, or situation, and more on the human part of the problem. It is the human factor or human agency that is most responsible for the cultural or ideological conditions that foster and sustain most of today’s chronic poverty in the U.S. These ideological conditions are what shape people’s choices (worldview), which naturally yield negative social and economic consequences.

A serious problem occurs when you attempt to apply the wrong response to the wrong condition. In other words, if you focus on the underlying, or ideological conditions, at a time when emergency relief is in order, people will continue to suffer and likely die. Conversely, if you employ relief strategies in conditions where poverty is a chronic problem then you never actually solve the root cause and relief can become a lifestyle.

This is precisely what happened in the U.S. when the federal government launched it’s “war on poverty” in 1964. As a result, relief became the default strategy for poverty alleviation in America. The government is great at providing emergency relief in certain situations because relief is largely transactional. However, poverty alleviation, because it deals with the human problem, is overwhelmingly relational. This is where the church excels and the government falls short.

Because of this confusion, not only has poverty grown, our government has turned relief into a lifestyle that today enslaves millions in a state of dependency and the church often unwittingly follows the same relief-centered transactional strategy.

By supporting BridgeBuilders, you are supporting a bibliocentric response to poverty and the poor that promises to alleviate the conditions that foster and sustain chronic poverty through the power of the gospel!