Farmington High School educators may not have woken up Friday wondering how they would keep the electricity going, how much they could get to pawn their kitchen appliances or how long they might have to spend in juvenile detention.
But two hours into Friday’s professional development exercise in the Field House, a poverty simulation – coordinated by the East Missouri Action Agency, a state and federal resource clearinghouse for poor and vulnerable communities – gave attendees an uncomfortable walk in the shoes of the 20% of St. Francis County residents who regularly experience these worries and fears.
“If you could use one word to describe your experience today,” Rob Baker, EMAA Project Manager said at the end of the exercise, “what would you use?”
“Stress!” shouted several teachers and instructors. “Frustration!”
The educators during the simulation were divided into small groups of families or individuals living in conditions of poverty. Around them were tables of EMAA volunteers, representing the key agents of safety or insecurity for one and all in life – supermarket, general employer, public school, utility company, EBT, social services, community health care, banking, pawnshop, payday loan and cash advance, and police service.
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Every week, each group or individual had to deal with their utilities, shopping, and rent/loan or mortgage payments. They received an envelope with cash, items they could pawn, and other relevant coupons. Baker warned that they would find out very soon how difficult the transport was.
“A transport pass is required to get anywhere in the room that is the cost of gas or to take a ride so you go from this table to this table you have to have a pass transport. And if you’re taking someone from your family with you, everyone must have a pass. Take five people, five passes,” he said. “You cannot obtain any type of service at any of the stations without presenting the ticket.
“Transportation, especially in our community, is a huge challenge for families who don’t have their own transportation. If you’re lucky enough to be employed, you’ll need five tickets that week.
And so the hour passed, with 15 minutes allotted to each of the four weeks, to represent a month. Being late was punished – if the week ended and they hadn’t cashed their paycheck, so be it. If they didn’t show up for work on time, their jobs were in jeopardy.
Each group was given a spreadsheet detailing their simulated situation: for example, a 34-year-old mother, abandoned by her husband who left her penniless, whose 17-year-old son had impregnated a teenage girl, with drug dealers and spent time in juvenile detention, while the son and mother tried to keep the 14-year-old daughter in school.
It was the “Duntley family,” experienced by Farmington educators Carrie Hinson, James Akins and Kristie Widdows.
Akins-as-son cautiously approached the pawnbroker, “Big Mike”, with a coupon depicting the camera he was trying to get $100 for, as instructed by his mother, who was making a mad dash for the long office job queue.
“Can you give me $100? »
“No, it’s too much. I think it’s worth $30.
Stunned, Akins-as-son stammered that his “mom” would kill him if he didn’t return with a much higher yield. The pawnbroker gave in. Akins soon had $45 in his pocket, earning him a scolding from his “mom.”
“I really don’t know where to go after this,” he said. “Do I get a job? I don’t even have a transport card. I have to find my mother.
Widdows-as-girl followed her mother everywhere, as she was sick at home and away from school. Hinson-as-mom also seemed to struggle amid the confusion and crowding of all the other poor “families” lining up everywhere, constantly assessing what they had in their subsistence envelope and figuring out how to make do with it. All plans to move forward a little, to save a little cushion, were quickly abandoned and many groups found themselves at the confessional table.
“How much money do you have?” asked Alisha Conley, assistant director acting as denominational coordinator. “Do you have any supplies?” Is your rent or loan already paid? And your utilities? Do you have something to pledge?
Conley denied two separate “family” heads who still had quite a bit of money in their envelope, while helping a poor man who had only $2 left and nothing to eat. She also helped an elderly woman who needed life-saving prescriptions and was in danger of losing her home.
When asked what it was like to be on her side of the table, she replied, “It’s really hard. I have to make sure they really need the money for the things in the moment, and I have to make sure they’re not trying to cheat the system so that we have enough for those who really need it. . My heart goes out to all of these people, and I know there are so many children in our district whose families go through this on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s one thing to know, it’s another to see him in action.”
Comparing notes later, several of the volunteers at the kiosks administering jobs, pawnshop money, loans, and groceries, noted that members of the simulated families never asked for receipts and rarely counted their change or the money returned to them.
“A teacher looked at me after I made him lose his loan, but he didn’t say anything,” the “banker” said.
“I haven’t been asked for a single pawnbroker,” the pawnbroker said.
Dawn Herbert, a district instructor who participated in the simulation, said the exercise was a little different for her, as she was living her real life “in the system”.
“I had two kids in the system, before I graduated, and I came out of it knowing how to budget and things like that,” she said. “So the first place I went was all the help, I knew I had to go out and see how I could maneuver and pay the bills. And we got through, we got $5 left. But in real life situations, that $5 still has to cover, like toilet paper and household supplies, you know, like that hardly covers anything.
“What I didn’t know was that the elderly held such dire positions within the system. And it’s really very heartbreaking. They are literally the backbone of our society, and I had no idea how bad their experience was. It’s so heartbreaking. We abandon them.
Herbert said that in real life, his mother worked for EMAA, so she knew all about the programs she offered and how to navigate to take advantage of public assistance programs like LiHEAP, TANF, Medicaid, EBT, bloat. home, HUD, work.
“But it’s always a challenge,” she said. “I remember hearing negative statistics about the likelihood of teenage mothers getting out of poverty, and I was determined to get out of it. But the thing is, when your income hits a certain point – it doesn’t may not be an income you and your family can live on, but program after program stops.There is no transition.
Baker acknowledged in his summary comments how difficult it was to advance with low wages and fewer safety nets.
“There may be a job for $13 an hour, but it’s only 20 hours and there are no benefits. Or there is a $20 an hour job and there are benefits, but putting the family on it would take most of the money and the child care subsidies are lost,” he said. “It’s a very flawed system.”
He pointed to another big complaint among poor families with school-age children is the isolation students feel when they watch their classmates participate in extracurricular activities that their own families cannot. afford, or that they don’t have transportation available after school.
“The friendships, the activities, the things that could help them stay in school are lost,” Baker said.
After the exercise was completed, several educators talked about the relevance of the poverty simulation and how it could be adapted to their classroom.
“I would love to do something like that with my class,” Hinson said. “I think even low-income students might not appreciate everything their parents do, they might not even know what the challenges are. This might give them food for thought.
“Frankly, even middle and senior graders need to find that navigating adulthood isn’t as easy as magically having enough of Starbucks or McDonald’s drive-thru. This gives food for thought. »
EMAA actually offers a poverty simulation exercise for children called “Real Simms”. They also offer poverty simulations to outside groups under certain circumstances. Anyone interested can contact the EMAA at 573-431-5191.
Sarah Haas is deputy editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or [email protected]