Poverty Simulation Workshop

The poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month. It is a simulation, not a game. The object is to sensitize participants to the realities faced by low-income people.

In the simulation, 50 to 75 participants assume the roles of up to 26 different families facing poverty. Some are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the “breadwinner”, and others are recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly AFDC), either with or without additional earned income. Others are disabled or are senior citizens receiving Social Security. The task of the “families” is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute “weeks”.

The experience lasts from two to three hours. It includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period in which participants and volunteer staffers share their reactions and experiences.

Access first hosted the Poverty Simulation in September 1996. Since then, several thousand people have participated in the workshop and have found this to be a powerful and often enlightening experience.

To read a first-hand account of the “Living on the Edge” poverty-simulation experience, click here for an article from The Banner.

Who Should Attend?

  • Staff and Volunteers of congregations
  • Food Pantry workers
  • Community leaders
  • Students, teachers, counselors
  • Businesses
  • Social Service staff
  • Anyone who desires a greater understanding of situations faced by low-income people

Why Attend?

  • To be educated on the realities that low-income persons face
  • To combat myths about people living in poverty
  • To increase awareness and empathy

The Simulation Staff:

A team of volunteers runs the simulation. Community staffers who have faced or are facing poverty work side by side with Access and other agency staff of diverse backgrounds to present the most effective simulation possible.

What people say about the simulation experience:

  • “This simulation dramatically demonstrates how much time and energy many families have to give just to survive from day to day. It quickly dispels the myth that people will do fine if they would only go out and get a job!”  — Marsha De Hollander, Access Program Director
  • “After having personally gone through the exercise, I decided that it was an experience that all my staff needed. It is excellent training for anyone wishing to try to understand what it means to be poor!” –Andrew Zylstra, Former Director, Kent County DHS
  • “No wonder my mom doesn’t always get me what I want” — Members of The Other Way Community Center Youth Group