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Simulation gives a taste of what it is like to live in poverty


Frustrated, helpless, incredulous and angry, these were some of the feelings that surfaced during Living on the Edge, an interactive poverty simulation at Dauphin Friendship Centre (DFC), Sept. 24.
Hosted by the Crisis Prevention Task Force committee in Dauphin and facilitated by United Way Brandon and district, the three-hour activity offered about 90 participants a brief opportunity to experience what it would be like to live on a low income for a month.
Participants were divided into different family groups, some with one or two parents, or grandparents, possibly with an extended family. Some families had stuffed dolls, representing babies, while others were given the role of school-age children.
Each family had 15 minutes, which represented a week, to pay rent, buy groceries and clothing, go to school or to work, all while paying for each move made around the DFC hall.
Volunteers were grocery store or banking staff, daycare workers, police, shelter staff and payday loan employees.
Added to the mix were dishonest transactions, as families were rushed to finish their tasks. Extra burdens, such as evictions added to the simulation, along with theft and misinformation.
As each 15-minute week passed, participants learned how difficult it can be for a low income family to accomplish what is often assumed to be simple tasks for daily living.
Cynamon Mychasiw, CAO of Brandon and district United Way, explained her group has done simulations over the southern part of the province and find them generally, well received.
“It’s always interesting to me to watch the first couple of simulation weeks (15 minutes) where people are a little bit more jovial, it’s a little bit of a game for them to try and make it through. And then you see by simulation week three, they’re really getting frustrated. They can’t pay their bills, they haven’t paid their mortgage, they’re evicted from their home, they haven’t paid their utilities and they’re suddenly realizing they haven’t fed their kids for three weeks,” she said.
“You know it’s maybe a little bit of an exaggeration, but people are really understanding what it takes when you’re low income, to try and make it to all the services that you need to and just to try and make ends meet.”
Randy Daley, chair of the Crisis Prevention Task Force committee was also pleased with the simulation.
“We had, I think, we had a right mix of people. Some came thinking they understood poverty. I even heard the comment, ‘I get it.’ But I don’t think they did, I think they do now, at least to some degree, and that was the idea. To say, it’s not as simple as it looks from the outside,” he said.
Mychasiw congratulated the committee for bringing in the simulation, noting a group of people in the area are looking to bring change to the community, want to work collaboratively and get services that are more accessible to people.
“They see clients who are having these issues and that their lives could be dramatically better, if they could have some help in the poverty aspect of things. I mean most of our mental health is made up of our social circumstances, not our DNA. So when you really look at people trying to make their way out of poverty and you see what it does to their mental health, you can see the spiral in their lives,” she said.
“And I know a lot of these Prairie Mountain Health workers are seeing that on a daily basis.”
At the end of the simulation participants filled out evaluations and the information will be compled, then shared with those attending.
As they wait for the feedback, Daley said, the committee is pursuing a number of ideas, such as creating a safe space and things it can do after hours.
“We have some space that has potential, now we just have to figure out what we are doing in this space and how often,” he said.
“So we know we want to start small, we don’t want to fail. So start small and grow it.”
The other plan, Daley noted, is a large community presentation on awareness of the issues in Dauphin.
“Dauphin is still a wonderful place to live, so we’re not selling Chicken Little, the sky is falling. But we need people to understand there’s a lot that’s not happening in Dauphin and it’s going to affect all of us at some point. So it’s just that sort of awareness,” he said, pointing out Echo Housing hopes to open more space before winter and the City is talking about housing developments and affordable housing.
“So everybody is starting to sort of get in the game. This is sort of long term, a lot of it. We want to do some short term and there’s going to be some mentoring, but we have to change, going forward, because what we’ve been doing isn’t working. And we try to make sure we’re not criticizing anyone for doing anything. Everybody’s working hard, it’s just we’re running out of resources, we’re running out of ideas in some cases. We have to change the way we’ve thought for the last 20 years, because it’s different now.”

M. A. Nyquist