‘Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ Poverty simulation shows true effect of impoverished families

By : 
Jordan Gerard

Houston County Public Health and Human Services held an “eye-opening” experience on April 3, which simulated impoverished situations.

More than 50 participants from the department, its partner agencies, 20 students and two staff from Spring Grove Public Schools and three facilitators from the Minnesota Community Action Partnership took part in the simulation.

Adult Services Lead Worker Lisa Arneson said the department sponsored the event to bring awareness and help participants experience life in someone else’s shoes.

“Much of the work we do in Public Health and Human Services is impacted by the difficult realties of poverty,” she said. “Obviously, it impacts our work in economic assistance, but the stress of poverty is also a contributing factor in a high percentage of the individuals and families we serve in Public Health and Human Services.”

Another goal was to “sensitize audiences to the realities faced by low-income people.” During the simulation, 44 to 82 participants assumed the roles of about 26 different families facing poverty.

Some families were newly unemployed, recently deserted by the “breadwinner,” homeless or recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and either with or without additional earned income.

Other family situations simulated could have been senior citizens receiving disability or retirement or grandparents raising their children.

The goal was for the families to provide basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minutes weeks.

It especially opened eyes for students, who had the chance to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” 

Before they participated in the simulation, students said the situation of impoverished families or those facing poverty wasn’t really on their mind.

“Before the simulation, I thought people were lazier and had no ambition to do anything,” student Hailey Borreson said. “Throughout the simulation, I learned I was wrong.”

Student Kelsey Bratland said she didn’t think about it too often, but she knew people struggled with poverty in the community and world.

Students were given various roles such as community action worker, banker, teacher, bill collector and more. Each job would require them to help someone who was experiencing poverty. 

During the simulation, they discovered how hard it could be to pay bills, get food or proper healthcare, which could be due to many reasons such as mental health, lack of funds or transportation or other circumstances.

“How hard it is to do everyday tasks and get your basic needs when you don’t have the resources like transportation,” student Kyle Hagen said.

Student Elizabeth Garcia-Holty said the simulation taught her “though people who live in poverty work more hours ... they struggle more with money, school and health situations...”

What’s more is creating awareness of poverty in Houston County. Students said it’s important to know because help can be provided, discrimination nor judgments cannot be issued and make a change to help others.

“I would tell them that poverty is an issue in many places and it is more complicated than you might think,” Borreson said. “I felt sympathy for those who have to actually go through poverty.”

After the simulation was complete, students said they could feel the stress of those living in poverty. They also have a better understanding of why donating to the food shelf and other organizations could “make a huge difference.”

“It cuts across age, community, and personal background and is the result of a myriad of causes,” Arneson said. “In truth, we find that every story is unique.”