Last week, the Midland Continuum of Care hosted a local Poverty Simulation workshop. Led by the Kalamazoo County Poverty Reduction Initiative, it brought to light the realities of living in poverty.

As we arrived, we were assigned fictitious individual identity and family. We joined the Chen’s, a family of five with a working mother and recently unemployed father with three children.  We were encouraged to embrace our new identities as we navigated work, school, finding a job and managing with limited resources. There were also a host of service providers in the simulation, including social services, banks, shelters, grocery stores, utility companies, law enforcement, faith organizations and even a pawn shop.

Even with some creative strategies, the frustration level rose with every minute, as we endured long lines, transportation challenges, foreclosure and shut-off notices while struggling to keep food on the table. After the simulation, we broke into small groups to share our experiences. Some challenges we experienced in the simulation:

  • Transportation and time were both barriers.
  • We were consistently on the edge of disaster (eviction, shut-off, overdrafts).
  • There was confusion about where to turn for help or how to navigate the system.
  • We were sent in many directions before finding a solution.
  • Day to day survival often took priority over the needs of children.
  • Children were often left alone.
  • We could be victimized (pawn shops, cash advance, etc.).
  • We consistently relied on help with food and clothing  in order to pay bills.

We all gained new insights into the experiences low-income families face every day, including the system barriers, frustration and stigmas attached to living in poverty.

In the words of Stephen  Covey: “The way we see the problem is the problem.”