Poverty simulation teaches valuable lessons

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
A single mom with two sons try to find help from a community resource.

As the saying goes, nobody really knows what another’s life is like until you “walk a mile in their shoes.”

That, in part, was the goal of an event held Tuesday evening at the Lake Region Community Shelter in Devils Lake.

A number of volunteers from various agencies around the region came together to put on a Poverty Simulation. Some were designated as vendors providing goods and services at various locations within the shelter. Some were given scenarios to follow as individuals living in poverty.

“The purpose of this simulation is to give you a small taste of what life is like on an extremely limited income,” the instructions explain.

Each time the whistle is blown, it is another month has passed by and a new month begins.

In order to survive the “month” each family or individual will need to: •Keep their shelter secure •Buy the required amount of food for each week •Keep utilities on •Make all payments •Respond appropriately to unexpected factors in your life •Keep tots in daycare and school-age children in school

Each participant was reminded to do their best to survive the month and better their situation.

It was a real challenge for most of the volunteers. One single mother had two rambunctious boys, aged three and four, to keep track of. The three-year-old was autistic, making it even more of a challenge for mom. Another single parent had two teenagers to keep track of, one of those teens ventured into drug use. One elderly couple had to navigate the “system” in order to obtain food stamps. Each scenario was different, but realistic.

Community resources were available like food stamps, public transportation, groceries, pawn shops and shopping center, housing, healthcare and utility providers and other possible resources. Sometimes the applicants would have to “jump through several different hoops” before being able to use those resources.

One challenge was transportation. Each time a family moved from one resource to another, they had to pay a fee for transportation because few had their own vehicles.

Often, to make ends meet, they would have to pawn something of value or deal with unscrupulous individuals who took advantage of their situation for their own gain.

The Poverty Simulation was developed as a learning tool which was created originally by the Reform Organization of Welfare (ROWEL) Education Association, a Missouri organization of people with low incomes and their allies working together to inform the larger community about the inadequacies and injustices of the welfare system. It sought to move citizens beyond compassion to an active commitment to work toward social justice. After the demise of this organization, the simulation was later updated with support from and in cooperation with the women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. From there it was shared with St. Vincent Health. This hospital system has updated it again and is currently utilizing it as a tool throughout central Indiana. Now it is being used here in the Lake Region to build awareness.

Following the four “month” simulation the participants talked about their experiences, frustrations, successes and failures in a round-table debriefing. All found the experience eye-opening and worthwhile.

Another similar Poverty Simulation is planned for Wednesday, April 18 and this one will be open to the public to observe and or participate. Watch the Devils Lake Journal for details as this date nears.