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What is it like to live in poverty? Simulation in Alexandria shows how difficult it can be

The simulation was presented by the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties in partnership with Alexandria Public Schools and Horizon Public Health.

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Participants in a poverty simulation sit in the designated "work" area. The simulation took place in the Alexandria Area High School gym.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA โ€” Do you think you could survive living in poverty?

On Thursday, April 13, a simulation was conducted that showed just how difficult it can be.

The simulation was presented by the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties in partnership with Alexandria Public Schools and Horizon Public Health.

"It's an opportunity to raise awareness and empathy to families who are faced with hardships every day," said Jen Jabas, executive director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties.

The simulation took place in the Alexandria Area High School gym, which was organized into "family units." Each family unit had a set of instructions that explained each participant's role in the family, the sources of income, possessions and list of bills.

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"We want you to be as realistic as you can," Jabas said. "We didn't ask you to come here to act today โ€” however, we do want you to fill that role like that individual in your packet would."

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Participants in the poverty simulation were organized into "families" in the center of the gym.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

The walls of the gym were lined with volunteers from Students United, who ran different shops and community organizations.

The participants then had to go through six 15-minute "weeks" in which they had to visit their employer or school for seven minutes, and then do all of their week's business.

"First and foremost, you have to think about your primary responsibilities," Jabas said. "We want to be sure that you're getting all the things that you need to be getting done throughout the course of your month. So you want to be sure that your home is safe, that your family is fed, that your bills are paid and that you get to and from work each day, the kids are getting to school, and younger kids are getting to child care."

Jabas said the simulation would be difficult for some of the participants. For example, participants needed transportation passes to be able to go to work or one of the other tables.

"We aren't trying to make it difficult for you, we're just trying to represent the reality of the cost of either time or dollars it takes to get each of us to get to and from one place," she said.

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The police department, juvenile hall and jail were among the different entities that had their own areas in the poverty simulation.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

In addition to working, participants also had to pay miscellaneous expenses and confront unexpected situations.

"It's going to be hard," Jabas said. "You're going to be looking around the room thinking about all the things you have to do, but if you're working full-time, seven minutes represents the equivalent of what a 40-hour week might be."

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Jabas said she hoped the participants in the poverty simulation would think about how to create change that could help others.

"This could be any one of us at any given time, and understanding the challenges that are faced by those in this situation is the best way for us to create opportunities for ways to address those challenges," she said. "If we don't understand what people are faced with, we can't help. โ€ฆ I think until we truly take off our own shoes and walk in the shoes of another, we can't begin to imagine what that might feel like, what challenges we might be faced with."

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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