The people of “Realville” are just like everyone else: They work, send their children to school and pay bills. The town has a bank, a supermarket, a school and a police department. The only difference is that all of Realville’s residents are at or below the poverty level.
Realville and its residents may be fictitious, but the situations they find themselves in are very real. That’s what participants from all over the community — ranging from the homeless to CEOs — learned during the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” poverty simulation Friday.
The simulation was the start of the “Creating our Future Together” forum hosted by the Columbia/Boone County Community Partnership. The goal of the simulation was to make people more aware of the hardships of poverty.
Brian Rhorer of the Columbia Area United Way said he hoped to gain a better understanding of the challenges low-income people face and to find an opportunity to improve lives of mid-Missourians.
When participants in the poverty simulation checked in on Friday, they were assigned to a family. The family groups ranged from one to four members. Each had a packet that provided identification, a list of family members, family income, a list of household goods and appliances and transportation passes.
The makeup of the families was based on situations frequently seen in Missouri, such as people who are cohabitating, single elderly residents, grandparents raising their grandchildren and those who have lost jobs to outsourcing.
Families were then challenged to survive for a month, broken down into four 15-minute weeks. Each had to keep themselves fed, go to work, pay their bills and make sure their children attended school or day care.
During the week, families faced challenges ranging from lack of money to robbery. Those who could not make mortgage payments came home to find overturned chairs, which meant they had been evicted.
Threat of eviction is something Lana Wiseman, who served as the mortgage company, can relate to. Several months ago she was threatened with eviction when her rent was a few days late. Wiseman said she hoped participants gained “a greater understanding of what life is like for lower-income families.”
At the end of the simulation, participants were given a chance to reflect on their experiences.
“I found myself feeling bad because I couldn’t take care of my family,” said OATS manager Jack Heusted. “There was always a challenge to overcome.”
Steven Tatlow of the Columbia-Boone County Community Partnership said the goal of the simulation was to bring people from all walks of life together so that they could begin to relate.
“We have issues in the community that need to be addressed.” Tatlow said.