A role-playing exercise in Hillsboro on Friday was designed to help average people understand what it’s really like to live in poverty.
About 50 people participating in a poverty simulation at the Hi-Tech Center in Hillsboro Friday were assigned names, ages, families, medical conditions and financial situations placing them below the poverty line, then told to pay all their bills and care for their children for four 15-minute intervals representing four weeks – a reminder that for an estimated 42 million people in the United States, poverty is everything but a simulation.
Highland County Community Action hosted the event, bringing in training personnel from the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies to give locals a hard look at what it means to live below the poverty line.
This reporter participated in the event, and was given a packet with a social security check for a little more than $500 for the month, as well as a set of bills to pay ranging from utilities to arthritis medicine totaling about $700 – all based on the financial situation of an actual 85-year-old woman living alone.
Booths set up around the room included a Community Action table, a pawn shop, a bank, a grocery store, a police station, a school and several other community entities.
Participants were asked to interact with staff at the tables as though it were a real-life situation, and it proved to be even more realistic when one woman “robbed” the bank and several others ended up in “jail.”
Some participants were assigned to be children in the simulation – including Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan – and spent most of their time in school or in jail, unless their parents were able to pick them up.
Those assigned to be parents held onto employment as long as they could, until organizers announced that a water main break had occurred at the school, and all children had to be picked up by both parents.
Several of the people assigned to be children ended up being picked up by police, and a few parents lost their jobs for leaving early.
Several families were “evicted” for not paying bills, and most of the participants, including this reporter, were given several red cards signifying poor nutrition when they didn’t buy food for more than a week.
Near the end of the simulated month, a loan collecter took the last $7 this reporter had left in the exercise.
HCCA director Julie Wise said she hoped the simulation demonstrated the stresses and hardships of living in poverty, and several participants said it changed their way of thinking about the subject.
“This was a very realistic presentation,” one woman said. “You gave me a headache and I’m very stressed right now.”
“Poverty is hard work,” another woman added.
Wise said people actually living in poverty shouldn’t be punished for those who abuse the system, and she hoped the event opened people’s eyes.
“I just want people to get rid of the stereotypes about the poor,” she said.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.