On September 13th, nearly 100 individuals from all over Polk County converged at the Pacific Room in Western Oregon University’s Werner Center to participate in a Poverty Simulation. The first question one might ask is, ‘what is a Poverty Simulation?’ That can be best described as a scripted role playing event of mega proportion that invites community members, stakeholders, leaders, and social service providers to follow a pre-determined scenario replicating the daily challenges those in poverty face.
The Polk County Commission for Children and Families (PCCCF) Board set the Poverty Simulation as one of their goals at the June 2012 Planning Session. To expand on the previously achieved goal of addressing homelessness in Polk County, the PCCCF Board decided to host the Poverty Simulation as a way of bringing awareness to the need in the County. For more on the homeless event access the Polk Community Connect.
The Poverty Simulation, facilitated by the non-profit CoActive Connections, uses a simulation kit developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action based on real life cases. The exercise asks participants to role play fictitious families that follow a profile, scenario and script. These families navigate through a make-shift village comprised of volunteer service providers that act as a bank, pawnbroker, jail, mortgage collector, school, social services, utility company, church and more. The objective of the project is to have the families work through the everyday barriers in providing basic needs for a family with less than is needed to sustain them.
The sense of urgency and frustration was visibly apparent in the participants during the event. The family members that had to stay home looked bored and some were noticeably agitated. Many of the volunteer service providers took on a life like portrayal of their role. Sheri Beehner of West Valley Housing Authority picked up her cell phone and impatiently told the participant “you will have to wait because I am on a personal call,” then she proceeded to ask her daughter on the phone to pull out rib eye steaks from the freezer—in Sheri’s words, "not caring if the family she was serving had a meal or not."
Ingrid Siadal, a Polk County Mental Health Counselor stated, “I must say that the event was fantastic. It helped me to give greater consideration about the situations of my clients and to also learn something about myself, particularly if I am faced with having to survive vs. thrive. From a mental health perspective, it offers insight into the complications our clientele face in meeting basic needs and (hopefully) helps us to reframe the perceptions of motivation, willingness, and engagement and so on. Great event and I hope we can do this again in the future. I would appreciate for my colleagues to be there and experience it”.
Among our guests was Oregon First Lady, Cylvia Hayes. The event seemed to align with her personal project, the Oregon Prosperity Initiative which works to help people connect with resources for feeding and housing their families. Cylvia shared her experience on Facebook, writing, "Thursday I joined 100 other Oregonians in a Poverty Simulation exercise. We were assigned roles based on real life cases of people and families struggling with poverty. Our challenge was to survive a month and keep our families fed with the income and expenses that the real families are actually dealing with. I was a grandfather confined to a wheelchair, who along with his wife, was raising their two grandchildren. It was stressful and exhausting. In the end, despite my best efforts, I failed to pay all the bills and keep my family secure. It was sobering and made a big impression on me."
The Poverty Simulation committee was deliberate in their invitations aiming to pull from leaders in the community that have the ability to enact change. They were also conscientious about including agencies that interface with those in poverty on a daily basis. Below is a list of representation for the event.
The 19 Service Providers included:
The 75 Participants/Observers included:
Poverty in Polk County
Homeless in Polk County
They say 'it takes a village,' we are hoping this village made an impact on those that inhabited it for just a day.
The PCCCF Board would like to thank all the volunteer service providers, participants and observers for their involvement in this important project. Thank you to Western Oregon University Teaching Research Institute and University Housing Department for the wonderful collaboration and to CoActive Connections for facilitating the Poverty Simulation.
“It is unacceptable that someone can work full time - and work hard - and not be able to lift themselves out of poverty,” - Sherrod Brown.
For more information, please visit the Itemizer-Observer's article: Experiencing Poverty.
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