Allison C. Gallagher
For the Troy Daily News
Local nonprofit Partners in Hope held a poverty simulation July 29 at St. Patrick Parish with the goal of raising awareness and educating the public on what a month in the life of a family living in poverty is like.
Family development coordinator and education specialist Sonia Holycross explained the rules of the simulation to the 59 people who participated. There would be four 15-minute segments which would represent a week in the life of a family living in poverty, with Week Two being the week bills were due. Week Three’s challenge was that the school would be closed and families would need to find childcare for their children. If the children were found taking care of themselves by the local police officer, they would be taken into foster care and the parents taken to jail.
Holycross stressed that the participants take their roles seriously to get the most out of the simulation.
“What you’re all about to experience is real life,” Holycross told the audience. “Your goals for the month are to make sure bills and utilities are paid, that you have transportation cards to get to work, that you are making it to work on time, and that if you have children that they are not left alone and can eat.”
Holycross then blew the whistle that meant week one was beginning. Paula Hemmerick of West Milton was playing the role of Kaitlyn, the 15-year-old daughter of the Knowles/Kaminski family. In that family scenario, the mother-in-law was on disability, the father was working a minimum wage job, and the mother was unemployed. “Kaitlyn” commented that week one was stressful on their family.
“My grandma can’t work and is on medicine, and my dad is always stressed because he’s the only one working,” she said.
Volunteers and board members with Partners in Hope portrayed workers at various businesses and social services. The stations were set up around the perimeter of the room and included a banker, currency exchange store, pawn shop, community action center, mortgage/rent collector, pawnbroker, police officer, utility collector, social service office caseworker and receptionist.
Additionally, Holycross noted that there was a volunteer portraying an illegal activities person circulating around the room and talking to various families.
“In a lot of impoverished communities, there is a person who promotes illegal activities such as a drug dealer, who will try to get teenagers to run favors and carry drugs in exchange for cash,” Holycross said. “When people are in need of money, they will do favors for the illegal activities person even if they know it’s wrong because they need the cash.”
By Week Two, the participants and their families were panicking trying to get bills paid. One woman, who was acting as the father in her family, had gone to jail after getting abrasive with another participant. A few families who did not get their mortgage or rent paid were evicted, and one woman had gone to the pawn shop to sell them her microwave. The price for a microwave is $100, but the pawnbrokers said that they usually gave $30 for them, which added to the frustration of many families.
“Kaitlyn,” who had applied for a job through school, was unable to go to work because of a suspension.
“I don’t like the teachers,” she said. “They’re stupid and don’t like me, so I got suspended. I can’t work now, and I’m not happy about it. I was looking forward to going to work and getting some money.”
Week Three was hectic with the school being on holiday and more children at home. Money was running low and more families were getting evicted. One woman portraying a pregnant teenager had the baby and was taken away by the town police officer to go into foster care. Her only concern was if going into foster care meant food and diapers would be guaranteed for her baby.
Once Week Four and the entire simulation was over, Holycross called the participants and volunteers into a circle to talk about what they thought of the experience. A few of the responses included those portraying teenagers stating that they eventually began to seek out the police officer to try and be arrested so they could eat in prison. One man said that he felt very defeated when he would try to pay bills as money was running low, and another lady said that in her experience, the social workers had no sympathy.
Executive director Jessica Echols stated the point of the simulation was to be educational and even a bit surprising.
“Poverty is a very real problem, nationwide and in Miami County,” Echols said. “At Partners in Hope we raise awareness of poverty so we can help those who are living through it. It really is a sad, hard thing and something that people do need to know about.”