Nonprofits step in shoes of low-income families with United Way’s ‘Poverty Simulator’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Pikes Peak United Way was hosting a classroom of sorts on Tuesday.

Participants had to walk in the shoes of those who live in a different class.

The exercise was open to the public, but many participants worked in the nonprofit sector.

“Allowing community members who have not experienced walking through the lives of some of the clientele we serve, to have an opportunity to go through a simulated month of poverty,” said Haley Chapin, the Executive Director of Tri-Lakes Cares.

The participants were divided into groups called ‘families;’ they each had a packet of information about their situation.

They were led through different situations and had to go through different struggles – like being evicted from their homes, trying to find childcare during school breaks and making it to government agencies before closing time.

Some the tasks to be completed as part of the event was attending work and school and transportation to each event. Then there were agencies like the department of human services and the police department to assist families as well as pawn shops and instant cash companies.

For those who work with underprivileged families, they said the simulation will help their community organizations understand the group of people they serve.

“Often the individuals running the organization, or people who sit on the board, haven’t had to the experience the life that our clients live,” said Haley Chapin.

Jason Dilger, the executive director of Mercy’s Gate, participated in the simulation and explained his experience.

“It was all centered around finances; you take a blow with a crisis here and another blow with a crisis here,” Dilger explained. “You just feel this insurmountable stress that continues to overwhelm you.”

Dilger learned quickly that the amount of spending they were required to do to survive, exceeded their income.

In the simulation, he was late to work and therefore fired from his job, which led his family to be evicted from their home and sent to the homeless shelter.

Some families were forced to pawn some of their belongings for money or resort to stealing.

“The more that we, as a community, understand poverty and the working poor; the more we can come up with solution to better meet their needs,” said Dilger.

Dilger said the simulation helped him realized the underprivileged communities biggest struggle: transportation.

“I did hear the issue around transportation today and from a professional level, I do want to think about solving that issue for the families that we serve and make sure they have access to the transportation that they need in our community,” said Dilger.

Anyone is able to host a poverty simulator by contacting Pikes Peak United Way..

Pikes Peak United Way assisted more than 30,000 families last year. If you or anyone you know needs assistance, contact the United Way to access their bank of resources by calling 2-1-1.

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