Poverty the focus of local simulation
- Published: August 21, 2021
Should Isaiah pay his cell phone bill of $30 when all he has in the bank is $55 or wait and risk it being shut off until he gets more money in the bank? Should he buy a weekly or a monthly transportation pass? Should he call off work sick, or push through an illness?
On Wednesday, June 30, 28 villagers pondered these and other dilemmas facing fictional characters in the Virtual Cost of Poverty Experience, a 90-minute poverty simulation that is designed to help people better understand the effects of poverty. Facilitated by the company Think Tank Inc. and hosted by Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs, participants were guided through a live virtual simulation exploring the set of experiences and decisions that families living in poverty face every day.
Those who missed the first virtual experience can participate in an “encore session” set for Tuesday, Aug. 17, from 10–11:30 a.m. To register, visit: thinktank.as.me/ysh.
When asked by the News what the community should understand about poverty in Yellow Springs, Emily Seibel, executive director of Home, Inc. and member of Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs, said simply that it exists here.
“A lot of times, poverty is more hidden in affluent and rural communities,” she said. “It’s important for us to bring the lens of poverty to the forefront in Yellow Springs. There are people living in poverty here.”
According to the findings from Bowen National Research, a company who completed a Housing Needs Assessment for the Village of Yellow Springs in 2018, although Yellow Springs is a wealthier community than surrounding areas with an average median household income of $63,024, there is a wide income gap between residents. The assessment found 13.3% of villagers live below the federal poverty level and nearly one quarter of village children are living in poverty.
The Virtual Cost of Poverty Experience was sponsored by Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs, which secured a $5,000 grant from the CareSource Foundation to bring the experience here. The event is one of three initial projects launched by the organization earlier this year. The other two projects include the rejuvenation of Beatty Hughes Park and offering housing repair grants for low-income villagers — all currently in process.
Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs is a coalition spearheaded by Yellow Springs Home Inc.
The coalition’s mission is to support the diverse communities that exist in Yellow Springs by identifying and removing barriers to opportunity and success. Seibel realized that Think Tank’s programming centered on poverty could be a valuable frame of reference for Yellow Springs.
“I personally have been going to their trainings for many years, I really love the way that they approach poverty and talk about socio-economic classes,” she said.
For Village Council member and simulation participant Kevin Stokes, the most important goal of this experience is to gain perspective, he said in a later interview. Stokes said he learned that he himself was raised in poverty.
“I didn’t know it as a kid, but part of my master’s in education training was a framework for understanding poverty, and in learning about the different classes, poverty, middle class, and upper class,” he said. “I saw my family in the poverty descriptions, and I didn’t realize it.”
According to the informational video produced by Think Tank, Inc., the goals of the Virtual Cost of Poverty Experience are to “better understand what people experience when they are in poverty, create connections and build empathy for people experiencing poverty, and better inform approaches and solutions to eliminating barriers to opportunity for people experiencing poverty.”
The Virtual Cost of Poverty Simulation was aimed at anyone who is a decision maker or part of a governing body in Yellow Springs including business owners, job creators, service providers and community members who would like to know how to advocate for people experiencing poverty, according to the Y.S. Home, Inc. flyer announcing the event to the community. Groups that participated were the Village of Yellow Springs, Yellow Springs Home Inc., Antioch College, Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, YS Chamber of Commerce, Yellow Springs Community Foundation, Yellow Springs Development Corporation, The 365 Project, Yellow Springs Schools, the Yellow Springs Senior Center and this reporter for the Yellow Springs News.
The simulation experience
Participants were asked to consider the effects of poverty through a fictional character named Isaiah, a 22-year-old, African American male. According to the demographics shared with the group, Isaiah is a senior in college, and the first person to go to college in his family. Isaiah lives with his grandparents and his mother, and his close-knit family and church are important to him.
Leading the simulation was Think Tank, Inc. facilitator Marla Fox who guided participants “through a set of experiences and decisions that families in poverty face every day.”
The goal of the simulation was to, as a group, complete tasks representing a week in poverty as experienced by Isaiah. Decisions facing Isaiah included:
Should Isaiah, who doesn’t own a car, purchase a monthly transportation pass for $60 or a weekly pass for $20 when he only has $120 in the bank?
After borrowing a friend’s car, he is stopped and profiled by the police who are pursuing an assailant involved in an armed robbery, because Isaiah “fits the description.” Should he tell his grandmother — who was worried when he came home late?
Isaiah wakes up feeling sick with a tonsil related issue during the week and must make the choice to either push through the illness, which may require later treatment or even surgery, or seek immediate medical attention.
His family may have trouble making rent this month.
Participants made decisions based on the choices provided in the simulation, and then explored the impact the various decisions made would have on Isaiah. For example, the choice was made for Isaiah to push through his illness, because he couldn’t afford the time off. Another decision was made to pay his $30 cell phone bill despite the lack of remaining funds available in his account.
Fox also dispelled misconceptions about the role poverty plays in a person’s life, saying that it ebbs and flows.
“The narrative is that people get stuck below the line, and they just kind of continue on that way, but the real stats tell us that it’s only actually 3% that stay underneath the poverty line five years in a row. It’s a fluid experience,” she explained during the experience.
Fox suggested that to be effective allies and change agents, communities should refrain from certain behaviors including assuming a “spectator” role, which she describes as “someone that really pays attention to the tip of the iceberg, watches people’s decisions, or makes a judgement about a person or a situation, an armchair quarterback.”
Fox also encouraged movement away from assuming an “expert” posture, “doling out expertise without engaging or taking the time to listen,” she said.
Fox suggested the community respect the dignity and value of the person challenged by poverty and ask the following questions as a starting point: How are we doing this through the lens of the organization we are connected to? And institutionally or communally, how are we doing these things — individually, neighbor or family member?
The next steps for Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs is to develop a livable and equitable age-friendly communitywide Yellow Springs Survey. A survey was already sent to participants in the poverty simulation.
Two questions on the survey pertain to Fox’s suggestions regarding how organizations can implement changes to address the poverty issues. The questions are, “What are some areas you can see your organization or community implementing changes/policies to remove barriers for people experiencing poverty, and how do you and your organization plan to include persons experiencing poverty in your decision-making process going forward?”
Alexandra Scott is the new Home, Inc. outreach and fundraising manager, who took over for Kineta Sanford after she recently resigned to take a position as a teacher at Mills Lawn.
“The second question is really important because one of the things that we were talking about is, people living in poverty are the experts of their own experience. So, we want to figure out ways to uplift their voices rather than having someone else speak for them,” Scott said.
Seibel offered Home, Inc.’s board model as an example for bringing people who may be experiencing poverty into the decision-making process.
“At Yellow Springs Home, Inc., one third of our board must be members of our constituency, persons of low to moderate income in Yellow Springs, just as an example,” she said.
Scott also emphasized the reality of poverty’s presence in Yellow Springs.
“The person experiencing poverty could be your neighbor. You could run into them at the grocery store in Yellow Springs. If we want to be inclusive, and we want to be welcoming, to be a community that values its diversity and accepts people, we want to be thinking about ways to ensure we engage and include people who are experiencing poverty,” she said.