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Two hours in the shoes of poverty

Simulation offers insight to leaders

POSTED: May 13, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Not being able to pay the bills or put food on the table is a struggle for some, fear for others, and an unimaginable way of life for those more fortunate.

  

On April 29, about 50 people in the community participated in a poverty simulation, presented by Dawson County Family Connection, that gave a small glimpse into the life of people living at or below the poverty level.

  

“This simulation gave great insight and a first hand understanding to those in public service positions of the daily struggles people in poverty face on a daily basis,” said Nancy Stites, director of family connection.

  

Stites said the simulation was designed to give those who work with people in poverty a better understanding of the problems they face, as well as show ways to best help them or spark ideas for better ways to provide support.

  

“We are seeing a lot more people in situational poverty for the first time and they are very stressed about it,” Stites added.

  

Held at Veterans Memorial Park, the two hour simulation placed participants into “families” and challenged them to survive for one month.

  

Broken down into 15 minute “weeks,” the simulated month required families to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, utilities on, make loan payments, pay for daily living expenses like transportation, handle unexpected emergencies, keep their children in school and do it all on less than $18,000 a year for a family of four.

  

Billy Thurmond, director of Dawson County Emergency Services, said the simulation was a learning experience.

  

“I am more aware now of how difficult it is for someone in poverty to live and try to meet basic needs that many of us take for granted,” he said. “People in this situation have to work very hard just to live, something that comes so much easier for other people.”

  

Thurmond played the role of an 85 year-old homeless man who had retirement benefits. He was able to figure out in a “month” how to get off his feet and into a place to live.

  

“I discovered that learning to use community resources that are available, such as assistance agencies like United Way, to help me get a start and take care of what I need to take care of,” Thurmond said.

  

The simulated families had to face problems such as teen pregnancy without healthcare, one or both parents unemployed, single parents with several children and many other scenarios.

  

Along with the simulated families, simulated community organizations were also represented: a bank, pawn shop, employment office, school, grocery store and several others.

  

During the simulation, parents of the families had to do what they could to pay bills, put food on the table, get a job and send their children to school.

  

The College of Family and Consumer Sciences from the University of Georgia hosted the simulation, which was led by Extension Agent Sharon Gibson.

  

“The poverty simulation was established as means to build awareness of family issues of those at the poverty level,” Gibson said. “The purpose is to develop questions within the community to see what efforts are or are not working to solve the issue.”

  

Linda Williams, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, also participated and said the simulation was more than she it expected it to be.

  

“The simulation gave us leaders a sense of the everyday frustrations that people living in poverty have while trying to navigate through life and meet basic living needs,” she said.

  

“Although this does not compare to the real life situations of families, this helped me realize the many things that we can’t control in our lives that can be devastating if meeting basic needs is a big struggle,” Williams added.

  

E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at elizabeth@dawsonnews.com.

 

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