Poverty Simulation: Bridging the Experiential Gap

The poet John Keats once made the claim that ideas understood strictly through writing are just words “until they are proved upon our pulses: we read fine things but never feel them to the full until we have gone through the same steps as the Author.”

When our bodies go through an experience, that experience in turn imprints itself upon our minds and a true, conscious understanding of the experience is born. This phenomenon applies to so many aspects of our lives and is as true—if not more so—with the comprehension of how poverty exists in the United States.

Poverty Simulation Spring 2017 compressedOn Saturday, May 6th, Safe Haven Family Shelter and Catholic Charities of Tennessee will team up under the Family Empowerment Program (FEP) to host the “Spring into Action” Poverty Simulation. This simulation is our attempt to bridge the experiential gap between middle-to-upper class individuals and the impoverished.

A client of Safe Haven Family Shelter, Charlette, recently shared some words with us concerning her family. She said, “I was sitting with two women in the lunch room at work and we started talking about our shared experience. So I began to write.” A portion of Charlette’s words follow:

“Poor people are the forgotten ones, poor people are the ones who others are less concerned about, poor people are invisible to society… Poor people are looked down upon. Some of you people look at poor people like we are a big disease, and you label us as lazy people who depend on the system to take care of us, which isn’t true. Poor people are some of the hardest working people who has been treated wrongly and robbed by society … if it wasn’t for poor people taking these low paying jobs then the rich man dreams would just be a dream. The ones that keep this world running are the ones that have to struggle each day and worry about how we are going to feed our children and keep a roof over our heads. Poor people have [dreams] as well, but our dreams isn’t about big corporations, our dreams are about not having to worry about feeding our children or keeping a roof over our family heads. That’s the thoughts of a poor mother.”

Of course we within the FEP cannot literally insert participants into the experiences of our families, but we hope to bring you as close as possible to their struggles. For an hour and 20 minutes each participant will play a specific role within their assigned family dynamic. Each family will be assigned a set of standards and parameters which, on the whole, mimic the familial poverty sphere. They must then work together as unit to navigate through obstacles like sickness, eviction, job loss, vehicle loss, food shortage, break-ins, utility cut-off, and more.

Through this experience the FEP hopes to promote poverty awareness, increase understanding—and, above all, inspire local change. After the simulation we take time to discuss the experience as a group and subsequently highlight next action steps. The avenues of action to fight family homelessness are varied and each one plays a role in overall effort to diminish the struggles felt by people like Charlette.

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