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Poverty simulation sheds light on tough realities

Masha Scheele

Conversations around poverty in Hinton and how to approach certain issues the community faces were lively following a local trial run of the Poverty Simulation in November.

The simulation was hosted by Hinton Employment and Learning Place (HELP), which placed participants in the experience of people living in poverty.

Candace Pambrun and Mandy Crespeigne from HELP learned about the simulation when they took part in a session hosted by United Way in Wildwood. 

United Way brought the simulation to different rural communities but lost their funding for the program, which prompted Pambrun and Crespeigne to find a way to purchase the simulation and bring it to Hinton.

“We want to bring the poverty simulation everywhere. We want to do it with the schools, with the teachers not the students. With our agencies, anybody who ever interacts with people in poverty. The person who says ‘just go get a job’,” said Pambrun. 

With help from the Hinton Kin Club and the Hinton Rotary, HELP purchased the simulation and had an extremely successful pilot run, explained Pambrun. The simulation is like a life-sized Game of Life and each participant is given a specific role, family dynamic, and a list of expenses and tasks to be carried out each week for four weeks.

Besides the participants who make up the families, volunteers take on the roles of bosses, bankers, utility collectors, police officers, social workers, and so on. These roles are given instructions on how to deal with each individual, and are bound by policies.

“It gave me a real feel of the struggles people go through when they don’t have support,” said Mayor Marcel Michaels, who participated in the role as a single parent with two children.

“People were asking for rent, and utilities. I had to deal with theft because my car was stolen, so I had to take the bus and deal with transit and had to buy passes on a limited budget. If I didn’t have funds I had to leave my kid at home. It did a great job of feeling the stress.”

He added that the exercise was a great way to appreciate what not-for-profits and other organizations do to help out people in challenging circumstances. Crespeigne added that Michaels eventually got fired by his boss in the simulation because he was late for work and wasn’t able to bring in enough income.

“So many scenarios that could happen in real life they implemented and really made you feel it,” Michaels said. 

The simulation demonstrates that when people are working, they can still struggle to make ends meet, added Pambrun. Afterwards, many of the participants said they felt frustrated throughout the simulation and struggled with possible real life scenarios. 

Participants would work at completing their tasks when problems would crop up, preventing them from getting ahead.

“Which is true to life and when you’re in a precarious position those things can put people right over the edge,” said Crespeigne.

Some volunteers who took on the community roles have faced poverty in their own lives before and it was tough for them to play the side of the institutions saying no to families. Pambrun added that they are careful about including those who live, or have lived, in poverty before, not wanting to retraumatize people. 

One big issues that was brought up through the session was access to transportation as you couldn’t get anywhere without a pass.

At the end of the session they talked about what services are available in the community, and how this affects those in poverty.

“We had great conversations with everyone afterwards on both sides, what did it feel like to deliver the ‘no’, what did it feel like to take care of a family,” said Crespeigne.

Crespeigne played the role of the community service agency, which is HELP in Hinton. 

That agency was used very little throughout the session because nobody knew what it was, which is reflective of many communities, added Crespeigne.

Pambrun expects to bring another simulation session to Hinton in the spring with the hopes of running it twice per year.