by Tara Leo Auchey
Seeing so much poverty everywhere makes me think that God is not rich. He gives the appearance of it, but I suspect some financial difficulties.~Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
It was the first one the Tri-County Community Action Commission did. A roomful of over 40 community leaders, elected officials, and corporate executives pretended to be poor.
But it wasn’t a game. It was a simulation. A Poverty Simulation.
Held on Wednesday, November 6th at the Capital Academy on Cameron Street, Harrisburg, the crowd included Senator Rob Teplitz; Representative Patty Kim; representatives of Senator Lou Barletta; Congressman Scott Perry; and Senator Robert Casey along with representatives of Pinnacle Health, PNC Bank, and New Hope Ministries to name a few of the corporations and non profits that participated.
Everyone was assigned a family profile. Some were designated adults, some were asked to be children. The assignments were based on real people and real stories, such as a lower middle-class family—husband, wife, children—college-educated, one spouse laid off, and health care lost. Some participants were told to imagine being a single parent, a family broken, a family abandoned, a teenager pregnant.
For one hour, these contrived families of various income levels, circumstances, and dynamics navigated the challenges of making bills, finding transportation, and securing child care as if it were one month of being impoverished.
Every fifteen minutes was another week. Every fifteen minutes brought on ups and downs, unforeseen perils, and lucky shots.
Along with the participants were the volunteers—which included students of the Capital Academy—who devoted their time to being the agencies, creditors, resources, and pressures of the world.
At first, there was joshing, laughs, and, quips amongst the participants.
Then as the week intervals went on, there was stress and strain evident in the room.
People couldn’t pay their bills or get where they needed to be. They were being evicted from their homes. They were forgetting to attend to their children. People were facing hardship.
The homeless shelter didn’t have enough beds and the school teacher was intolerant of students who weren’t making their own way. There were many aspects of poverty covered. There were many conditions not addressed.
At the end of the hour, the senators, representatives, commissioners, CEOs, executive directors, and activists got to be themselves again.
They got to reflect on the experience of being poor instead of being poor.
In the discussion that ensued afterwards, participants talked about the realization of the complexity of the “system of being impoverished.” They discussed the time spent trying to deal with being impoverished. They discussed who could do it well and who couldn’t.
Some were reminded of who they know, what they each may have experienced in their own lives, what any of us could experience at any point in time.
Poverty….a simulation for some, a reality for others.