Poverty simulator promotes change in perspective

Participants paired off and made decisions on a variety of monthly budget options for a low-income family, such as how much to spend on food, rent, and utilities. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

Participants paired off and made decisions on a variety of monthly budget options for a low-income family, such as how much to spend on food, rent and utilities. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Stressful, anxiety-inducing, desperate.
These were the words chosen by participants to describe the circumstances they found themselves in while partaking in the United Way “Breaking the Cycle” poverty simulator.
While the event was only a simulation, it represented the real circumstances that many Manistee County families endure on a daily basis, according to Rose Fosdick, director of Manistee County 2-1-1.

It was part of the spread of events for the Manistee County Human Services Collaborative Body (HSCB) “In Their Shoes” Homelessness and Poverty Awareness Week.

“According to our 2015 statistics, 25-percent of our county is living in the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) group,” said Fosdick. “That’s one in every four people you see out walking around.”

United Way identifies the ALICE group as those living above the federal poverty level, and are therefore ineligible for federal benefits.

Local students from CASMAN Academy decorated t-shirts that discussed what poverty means to them, and they were displayed while the poverty simulation took place. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

Local students from CASMAN Academy decorated t-shirts that discussed what poverty means to them, and they were displayed while the poverty simulation took place. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

The simulation, developed by United Way Worldwide, was open to the public and is designed to close the gap in awareness and understanding of families living in poverty.

Participants take on the role of a low-income person and go through several five-minute sessions, each representing a month of providing for family and maintaining a home.

“You’re not choosing between ‘do I get my hair or my nails done,’ you are choosing between food and heat,” said Judy Crockett, who participated in the simulation.

Fosdick said the events during the “In Their Shoes” awareness week not only promote empathy and understanding for members of the community, they shine a spotlight on several of the resources that are available to those who are homeless or living in poverty.

“It’s complicated for people to navigate the system and get agencies on the same page, to allow our resources to help people in the best way we can,” she said. “We like to make sure that any resources that are out there to help people are easy to find on the 2-1-1 database, and it also helps to stir up interest in volunteering.”

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