Frustration, stress and desperation were among the reactions of participants in the Community Action Poverty Simulation, a role-playing exercise administered by Alabama Possible and sponsored by the Lakeview Community Civic Organization.
Participants included social workers, bankers, city leaders and volunteers. They met in two group discussions following the completion of the simulation to share what they learned. Several remarked on how they had never before looked at the effect poverty has on children and called it “eye-opening.” Others said it took an emotional toll with the lack of spiritual and emotional support available.
The simulation took place at the Guntersville Rec Center and involved about 50 participants randomly assigned to low-income families. Family members faced challenges based on real-life situations. The task was to provide basic needs on a limited budget for one month. The month consisted of four 15-minute weeks. Families interacted with schools, employers, bill collectors, grocers, human service agencies, pawnbrokers, and others. Each of the resources were set up around the perimeter of the room.
Transportation quickly became a main issue for the families. Participants could not go to any of the resources other than school without paying for each trip whether it be in bus, taxi or Uber fare, or gas money if using their own car.
One participant, in his role, lost his job because he couldn’t get to work when his car broke down. He completed another job application but could never return it to the employer because of his lack of transportation.
In another family, a young mother, living with her employed father and 9-year-old asthmatic brother, left her infant with the younger sibling so she could go to her part-time job, take care of the grocery and utility bills, and look for community resources to assist their needs.
The younger brother rarely made it to school.
Some discovered in pawning possessions from their homes, the cash offered was not nearly what they thought was the value of their items.
Participants were surprised to learn from those volunteering at the agency stations that several of them had charity money available for their needs. The volunteers said they had little to no requests for it, while the family members said they had no idea it was available.
In asking for assistance, not knowing where to start and how to navigate through the various agencies is a common roadblock for those in need, according to Sarah Banks, facilitator of the simulation.
“Your best resource as a community is to ask your agencies to be registered with 211,” she said.
“If you know someone in need, you tell them to dial 211 on their phone. It is universally usable in the United States. It can save so much time and frustration,” Banks said.
Once a person has made the call, they input their ZIP and give details of their situation. They can then be directed to the best resources available in their area.
Ms. Banks issued a challenge to all who completed the simulation.
“You have a role and you can make an impact in your community,” she said. “Take what you learned here today and use it in your community.”
Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The Marshall County poverty rate is at 21 percent, which is higher than the rates of surrounding counties. It is in the mid-range for Alabama.
Just over 32 percent of children in Marshall County live in poverty. Nine percent of elderly residents are poor.
Alabama Possible began in 1993 as the Alabama Poverty Project. It is nonprofit and has as its mission statement “To break down barriers to prosperity in Alabama through education, collaboration and advocacy.”
The group has been conducting the poverty simulation since 2008.