Maslow's Needs and Poverty's Catch 22

By Emma Bucher

A New Home for Survivors of Human Trafficking in Peoria

I am super enthusiastic to announce that I’m part of an organization ( that JUST purchased a 3-bedroom house in Peoria for survivors of human trafficking. The home will be a totally free, long-term place of residence. We set no limit on the amount of time people can stay and will provide food, clothing, utilities, and transportation to resources as needed. Isn’t that wonderful? 

One of the things that has come to my mind lately is the immense privilege of always having food and shelter when I was a child and now as an adult. I’ve experienced the anxiety as an adult about making mortgage payments, but let’s be honest, I have parents, in-laws, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, etc. who would never let my family go homeless. Real housing insecurity is just simply not on my radar and probably never will be. And guess what? I’m a secure, functioning, happy adult. Of course, there are many factors that contribute to someone being secure, functioning, and happy, but having basic needs consistently met as a child is pretty darn essential. This is one of my main goals at Grounds of Grace: to help people get their basic needs met, especially people who have had unspeakable crimes committed against them.

Where do I get the language like “basic needs” and what does this really mean? Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs first published in 1943. Maslow was a psychologist who became famous for theorizing about human motivation. Simply put, Maslow believed there was a hierarchy of needs, and earlier needs must be met for people to feel motivated to pursue next steps in their lives. For example, Maslow’s Hierarchy (pic below) posits that people must have ready access to food, water, and shelter before they feel motivated to pursue needs such as finding a job, going to school, or paying rent on time. 

You might notice there could be something of a catch 22 here.  One must first have a secure sense of shelter (first stage of needs) before they feel motivated to maintain a job that pays for their shelter (second stage of needs). So, it would seem people need free shelter for a time to psychologically move to the next level of needs in which they feel motivated to find ways to maintain shelter and thrive. Well, how the heck does that ever work? If you’re anything like me, you didn’t pay for rent until you went to college. Even then, your parents helped you with rent or covered it entirely until you graduated or were able to generate stable income to be independent. The reality is that most people do NOT have this privilege, and this could contribute to the cycle of poverty.  People can become anxious or traumatized from losing shelter over the course of their life which makes it difficult to enroll in school or pick up extra shifts at work which in turn contributes to losing shelter (e.g. they miss rent payments). 

That being said, my goal with Grounds of Grace is to provide people a home. A home is unconditional access to shelter, warm clothes, clean water, and comfortable beds. Theoretically, this will motivate people to enroll in those Nursing classes or set up job interviews, which will ultimately help them become self-sustaining. This is the path I was given, and I would like it to be available to others in my community.

One might interject, “What about homeless shelters? Those provide free shelter!” Well sure, and I’m extremely grateful for local shelters like the Dream Center or Salvation Army when it comes to crisis care and keeping people warm in the winter. However, having spoken to families and friends who have spent some nights in homeless shelters, they can be scary. I must ask myself: would I feel comfortable checking in for the night with my infant and two toddlers at one of our local homeless shelters? Maybeeeeee….but my husband would kill me!! Why? Because it would scare the crap out of him, and protection is a core value of his. He would be worried about our safety. While our need for shelter might be met for the evening, it could very well be thwarted by the fear that someone with mental illness or a substance use disorder might try getting into our room.

Not to mention, homeless shelters aren’t meant to be a long-term housing solution. Granted, people can stay at homeless shelters indefinitely, but there are often expectations and rules to be followed (e.g. wakeup call at 6 A.M. to eat breakfast and leave for job searches). The pressure to move out (or the one year rule that sometimes comes with transitional facilities) can add to the anxiety that prevents a person from feeling that their basic need of shelter is actually being met. This is not a criticism of homeless shelters or crisis residential communities; it is just different from the type of care we hope to give at Grounds of Grace. Our goal is to establish a deep-seated sense that YOU HAVE SHELTER, which will advance the person’s motivation to focus on stage two needs (going to work) that will provide them shelter.

As a final note, you might notice that the final stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is self-actualization. There is much discussion about what this looks like, but at its core, self-actualization is striving to live out your vocation well. This might mean being the best father you can be or shooting for straight A’s this semester. When people have the rest of their needs met (e.g. food, safety, friendship, experience of beauty, self-respect, etc.), they are more likely to be motivated to live like saints. Maslow even added another layer to his hierarchy after his original publication that included “transcendence” or  spiritual needs. This is where we are when we are desiring that which is infinite. It is the very highest and most holistic level of being in which we are motivated to know God and to be known by God. It is here that we behave as gifts to others and unite ourselves to the common good. It is here we experience the salvific presence of Christ within the core of our being. Please say a prayer for our organization!




October 26, 2021 - 7:53pm

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