The City of Wetaskiwin and the United Way of Central Alberta recently pulled back the veil on what living is poverty looks like.
A poverty simulation was held at the Wetaskiwin Memorial Arts Centre on April 5, with community members representing a variety of groups in the city participating or volunteering.
City of Wetaskiwin staff, business owners and members of the school divisions could be seeing slipping into the roles of impoverished families. While on the other side were the volunteers, running institutions and resources set in place to held people struggling in poverty meet their needs.
As part of the simulation each participant was given a role and a set of circumstances. It was up to them to work with their families to survive a month as a family living in poverty; struggling to pay bills, buy food, travel to work and in some cases find a job.
Following the simulation was a debriefing for the participants and the volunteers. Both sides were asked to describe how the simulation made them feel.
For those simulating what it was like to live in poverty the word frustration was used often. It was frustrating having limited means of transportation, frustrating trying to delegate where money needed to go and sometimes coming up short, even frustrating when children came home from school because it meant one more body using up a transportation pass.
Anger was another emotion, as participants voiced how they wanted to be the first in every line to ensure they were served and they became angry with those standing in their way.
Volunteers serving as the resource providers also mentioned their frustrations. During the debriefing is was said they were frustrated they could not serve those in need faster, and some of the systems were not efficient enough to meet demand.
It was also said that becoming more impersonal with the participants made it easier to get through the interaction.
However, everyone could agree it was an eye-opening, educating experience and that education at every level in the community is imperative to overcome the cycle of poverty many Albertans live in.
“I think that, first of all, the support received was wonderful. We had a lot of people participate, we had wonderful volunteers, and a lot of support from United way,” said Linda Mueller, Family and Community Support Services manager.
“It always amazes me that everybody learned something different. Everybody is impacted differently,” she added.
Mueller says holding the poverty simulation allows people to experience life how they perhaps would not in their real day-to-day lives, and let go of assumptions they made.
“I think that poverty is universal. You’re going to see single parents who are struggling. You’re going to see seniors living month-to-month,” said Mueller.
“I think it’s important for everybody to go and experience it. I think it helps enhance empathy,” she added.
Mueller says she would like to see the simulation come back to the city if possible.
“It couldn’t have happened without the people that participated,” said Mueller.