Simulation Exercise Deepens Understanding of Poverty

One family is faced with the choice of selling their refrigerator or stove to get extra money for food and other necessities.

Another has been evicted from their home, and find themselves homeless with a baby to care for.

These and other scenarios became the focus for about 70 people who participated in a first-ever "poverty simulation" exercise hosted Tuesday by the local United Way chapter.

The event, presented with the UND Nonprofit Leadership Program, was a means for people "to learn about poverty in our community," said Pat Berger, president and CEO of United Way of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Area.

Participants, with varied backgrounds, sampled what life is like for people who are trying to cope with financial difficulties by playing the roles of actual former clients of the Community Action social service agency.

In small groups, participants were given scenarios outlining the cases of former clients of the Community Action social services agency. The clients' circumstances and situations varied.

"You're stepping into the shoes of actual clients of Community Action," said Andrea Olson, executive director of the agency which serves 25,000 North Dakota families.

In four weeks, each lasting 15 minutes, at stations around the room, role-players had to pay bills, go to work, get children to school or day care, procure food, obtain safe and secure housing, cope with health emergencies and respond to unexpected challenges—like utilities being turned off or vehicle breakdown.

"I was amazed by the lengths people would go to to afford basic needs," said Amelia Indvik who played a child whose grandmother had suffered a stroke and was unable to get health care.

Monica Fallon said, "The transportation part of it was a huge thing."

Earl Beal, retired faculty member in the counseling psychology program, said he was impressed that the exercise "increased the awareness of, so often, the gaps that exist among and between agencies."

"There could be increased synergy," he said.

Beal was pleased the exercise helped participants "see the need for strong connection between agencies," he said, as well as the "redundancy and overlap" in social programs.

Others mentioned the frustration they felt trying to navigate a bureaucratic system that seemed to erect barriers to, rather than encourage, financial independence.

"How do you cut through that red tape?" said Dana Sande, Grand Forks City Council president, in the closing recap. "How do people get the services they need?"

At the end of the program, many in attendance indicated that their attitudes about people in poverty had changed.


Source: Pamela Knudson (GF Herald online, 4/11/18)