Poverty Isn’t Just Money
“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960
Two of our team members recently attended a Poverty Simulation event hosted by Boulder County Circles Campaign. This simulation allows community members to come together to walk in someone else’s shoes as participants assume the life of someone in poverty and experience the realities families face on limited income and scarce resources. Read one of our team members’ experience below:
I’ve been poor before. I’ve been unemployed and on food stamps. But I haven’t experienced true poverty. The Poverty Simulation showed me the difference between not having money and being in poverty.
I “was” a 40-year-old divorced man living with my 20-year-old daughter Rita who was in college, my 9-year-old son Roland, and Rita’s one-year-old son Ryan. Theoretically, we should have been able to stay afloat on my full-time pay ($10 an hour) and Rita’s part-time work. But Roland, with learning disabilities, acted up in school and was suspended. I had just started my job and had to wait for my paycheck, which could only cover half the rent. We couldn’t afford childcare for Roland and Ryan, so Rita dropped out of college to stay home and watch them. Meanwhile, other bills came due. The refrigerator broke. Food stamps didn’t even cover half the monthly food bill. When I went to Social Services to get help with the rent, they were rude and always closed before I could see someone. When the bank refused to cash my paycheck, we were evicted from our rental home.
That is a taste of our “month in poverty.” What didn’t seem so bad at the outset turned into a nightmare. I could feel my frustration (and blood pressure) rising while we tried to do our best and live with integrity in a system that seemed completely rigged against us—or at the very least, completely indifferent. It took no imagination at all to see the frustration turn to rage and violence—especially when a thief tried to sell me my own stolen Social Security number or when Social Services wasted my time making me fill out the same form and then shut the door in my face three times in a row.
The Poverty Simulation reflects real people’s lives dealing with real barriers to a manageable life. No one wants to live in poverty. Foothills United way partners with Boulder County in the Personal Investment Enterprise program for personal asset building, and Boulder County’s Circles Program matches Circle Leaders, people who are developing a plan to move out of poverty, with volunteers who support and work with them. These are wonderful programs, but we need to do more. Caring is a good first step.