The poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month. The object is to sensitize participants to the realities faced by low-income people. While it may seem lighthearted at first, participants are reminded at the beginning that it's a simulation, not a game.
In the simulation, up to 88 participants can assume the roles of up to 26 different families facing poverty. Some families are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the "breadwinner," some are homeless, and others are recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), either with or without additional earned income. Still others are senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement or grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of "families" is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute "weeks."
Having been placed in the simulation and "lived" part of their month, participants came to understand a little more what living in poverty is like, with observations like, "It has consumed all our energy to keep afloat. Lines are long!" and, "We're making it, but it takes all of us." Participants in the roles of children also gained understanding, for example, this was written on a homework sheet instead of answering questions: "I'm hungry, we didn't eat this week." No matter the role, everyone gets some new viewpoint.
At the end of the simulation, which lasts about three hours and includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period, participants and volunteer staffers share their feelings and experiences and talk about what they have learned about the lives of people in poverty. When asked why they participated, community members described their motivations: "An educated community is an empowered one" and "To better understand the process of the poor in accessing assistance. To connect with the emotional journey." During the end debriefing, this group seemed to have achieved what they set out to do.
For more information or if you are interested in participating, volunteering for, or hosting a simulation, please call us at (509) 662-6156.