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Boulder County Group to Hold Poverty Simulation in Longmont

May 12, 2018 GMT

There are a lot of misconceptions about those who live in poverty, says Marnita Rodriguez, program coordinator for the Boulder County Circles Campaign.

“One of the common misconceptions is that people who are poor are lazy,” she said, but some work 10-hour days at low-wage jobs, then find ways to take a few hours off to go apply for benefits to cover what their low wages won’t.

Rodriguez hopes those who come to the organization’s biannual poverty simulation event this weekend will realize, “Oh, people are actually working and not able to survive on their income.”

The poverty simulation, which Circles holds twice per year, will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at the United Church of Christ on Ninth Avenue in Longmont.

Circles runs an 18-month program to “help people help themselves,” said Mike Stratton, communications specialist for Boulder County Community Services, which houses Circles. Its aim is to connect people with allies, resources and tools to lift them out of poverty.

Just more than 13 percent of families in Boulder County have an income that is below the poverty level, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey in 2016.

The 2018 federal poverty level is $25,100 for a family of four people. In 2015, a family of four in Boulder County would need at least $75,906 to be self-sufficient and afford basic necessities such as health care, food and child care without assistance, according to a report from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

The poverty simulation gives participants four 15-minute “weeks” to figure out how to live on a limited budget and includes different incidents such as dealing with evictions, bill collectors, police and more.

The short time period is meant to simulate what “many people in poverty experience, where they have a short amount of time to get a lot accomplished,” Rodriguez said. Different situations will pop up with different groups to simulate “the luck of the draw in real life.” A number of the volunteers for the event also either have experienced poverty or are experiencing it now, she said, so they lend their experience to the roleplay.

The simulation is the next-best way, after trying to live off of food stamps, to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in poverty, according to Rodriguez.

However, a study conducted by Laurie Browne and Susan Roll at California State University in Chico found that simulations could “perpetuate inequality” rather than encourage people to “address poverty through civic action” if they are implemented without context, critical thinking and empathy.

Rodriguez says they prevent the simulations from feeling like a game by presenting the issue first, constricting the time frame and including those with firsthand experience with poverty to both participate in the event and speak afterward.

Afterward, many of the participants describe the simulation as “stressful” in evaluations, she said.

“In poverty, you’re given a short amount of time to maybe turn in a document by Friday. But you have to work all week, so how are you going to make that happen?” she said. “It’s a lot of quick strategizing and having people think on their feet.”

One important aspect poverty simulations highlight is the difficulty of obtaining food security, said Melvin Wilson, manager of social justice and human rights for the National Association of Social Workers.

Those who use food stamps only get about $4.30 per person per day, making it hard to have a nutritious diet. While Wilson said simulations are only part of the solution to raising awareness, he said they can help press the “notion that there is food insecurity, that food stamps ... aren’t the total remedy for that.”

Rodriguez hopes that people who wouldn’t typically do an activity like this try it out and dispel some of their own misconceptions about poverty.

“Perhaps by experiencing a little bit of this themselves they will look at folks differently, treat people differently,” Stratton said.

Those who are interested in attending the event must RSVP to circlesinfo@bouldercounty.org . Those who are interested in volunteering for this or other Circles’ programs can contact staff through the same email.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com