Supporting Efforts to Fight Poverty in our Community through Poverty Simulations

The impact of poverty on our community is both devastating and accelerating. Building awareness across our community, activating existing resources, and fostering innovation will be critical to the success of the initiative. 

Poverty simulations are a powerful exercise designed to help community leaders, health and human service providers, area businesses, and other community stakeholders deepen their understanding of the day-to-day challenges faced by those living in poverty and how current systems, policies, and practices create barriers.  

How does it work? 

The poverty simulation is a highly interactive experience designed to help participants begin to understand what a typical low-income family experiences trying to survive from month to month. In the simulation, participants assume the roles of family members in poverty.   Volunteers play the roles of service providers and other community resources (e.g., bank, employer, grocery, Department of Social Services, landlord, school, child care, and law enforcement, etc.).  

Cultural Competence and Health Literacy (e.g. health and systemic inequities, Social Determinants of Health, structural racism, implicit bias, language barriers, cultural nuances, etc.), as well as critical points related to your organization's area of service, are incorporated into the Poverty Simulation, making the experience resonate with professionals regarding emerging and concerning issues associated with community and health outcomes paired with the relative impact of poverty on the people you serve, all to support your organization's effort to improve service delivery and patient/consumer/client outcomes.

The exercise runs for approximately 3 hours - a 30-minute registration process, 2-hour simulation, and 30-minute debriefing session. Poverty simulations are led by CCSI's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Watch this News 8 WROC news story about how poverty simulations increase empathy among healthcare professionals

Check out a video from a workshop

Interested in hosting or want to learn more? Connect with Kesha Carter.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Poverty Simulation Workshops

Evaluation results suggest that the goals of helping to create greater awareness of and sensitivity to the challenges faced by individuals living in poverty were achieved. Click here to read more about Assessing the Impact of Poverty Simulation Workshops.

Feedback from Participants

"Thank you so much for conducting the poverty simulation! What an eye opening experience. I was not sure what to expect walking in that morning, but had some idea that I would be leaving with a different perspective. Not having grown up with many of the struggles that we experienced on Saturday, it was a big eye-opener for me. Even after the first "week," my "family" and I were beyond stressed and already behind in helping ourselves. The title of the simulation "walk in their shoes" was extremely fitting. The simulation was very well organized and thought out and truly helped me to walk in someone else's shoes for a few hours. It's disheartening to think that even for a few hours I was very stressed and overwhelmed, and to think that there are many people that experience this in real life every day, all day. The group discussion at the end was also very helpful and engaging. You truly did a wonderful job conducting, organizing, and helping us all to reflect on how we see other people in the world around us."

Chealsea Kehrli, Outreach and Engagement Specialist

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect out of the simulation, and growing up in poverty myself, there was a part of me that thought it was going to be a waste of my time. Something along the lines of, "Hmmm, how are they going to simulate all of the bull*#!% being poor brings with it in an hour, this will be hokey," went through my head. Well, I was wrong. The timing, quick delivery of instructions, and overwhelming amount of to-do's put me right back into a mindset I remember all too vividly. I found myself diverting to behaviors I've worked really hard to move beyond such as: thinking it's every man for himself, seeing others as tools rather than people, closing myself off to strangers and putting on a hard facade, rationalizing actions that aren't in line with my values out of necessity. It was powerful. I was on the verge of tears at one point for how easy it is to live a life like that, and how complicated the system of inequalities that all compound to make it possible are. How do we fix it??? On a positive note though, I did feel a sense of being seen. As an adult who does not live in poverty anymore, I was able to see my younger self and my parents with a renewed vision. I felt validated and less shameful about the way I was brought up because it really is a matter of lack and scarcity rather than being "bad people" that contributes to a lot of what I experience. It was a relief to know and it helped me gain more understanding of the complicated sense that I both loved my parents and knew they loved me, but I grew up surrounded by chaos, neglect and trauma—things that aren’t often attributed to loving homes. So, in a long, roundabout way, thank you. And please get as many people as you can to go through this training. It is essential to societal empathy and building what bell hooks deems a love ethic—a community built around supporting each other, sharing, and connecting rather than individualistic, greed, power and dominance."

Lisa Nichols, Program Manager

"I have never before experienced such a well planned, effective and efficient stimulation program.  For me, I was reminded in real time, of places, feelings and struggles that are a part of my past.  It reminded me of promises I had made during my hardship, to change the judgment and prejudice of the world as it was and still is. I realized I had done little with that promise. I felt sad, ashamed and angry. The tools provided and those that weren't provided, gave purpose to the risk individuals or families continue  take for survival.  My time spent at the event was thought provoking.  The flexibility of "free will" gave understanding to why one may commit suicide, theft, drugs or allow life to live while their spirit is dead, was proof of my need to do more. I hope my Foundation and business becomes a beacon within my community and surrounding communities implementing or become a part change. Thank you Nancy Sung Shelton for another phenomenal experience!  Your talent is remarkable and is needed.  You delivered an elegant and seamless experience for me and I am grateful."

Jenny Dozier, Community Member

"As a participant in the Poverty Simulation event held on January 11, 2020 at the RIT Inn, please accept my gratitude and amazement at how overcome with empathy your work achieves.  The three-hour "workshop" leaves an indelible impression.  I look forward to sharing the experience with many others."

Denise Lippa, Student

"I was completely blown away by the level of frustration and anxiety that I felt trying to maneuver as a single teenage mom even for just that hour! I really feel that this experience will help me to better empathize with patrons having a difficult time, as well as come up with more thoughtful programs..."

“This was one of the most profound learning experiences I have had in decades. It is life changing!”

“I assumed ahead of time that we would be given scarce resources and have to figure out how to get by.  I underestimated the impact of actually trying to do those things - the chaos, the feeling of hopelessness, the "pushiness" of others - it was really a scenario of survival of the fittest.  I have a new respect for the working poor. I will try my best to put myself in other's shoes and have compassion for the struggles that some of these people have to live with on a daily basis.”

“When approached by people with attitudes. I will remind myself of their possible living conditions.”

“I have a greater understanding of the stress created by having so much to do with limited resources and time.”

Featured Articles

The University of New Mexico College of Nursing held its first Poverty Simulation Workshop giving their students a glimpse into what their future patients might be going through, thus preparing them to be better nurses. Check out this great video featuring UNM Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs, Carolyn Montoya, PhD, RN, as well as nursing students form the program as they share how the workshop impacted them.

Democrat and Chronicle Executive Editor Mike Kilian participated in a poverty simulation for Rochester's media and communications professionals.  He shared his experience, and how it reinforced his commitment to guiding insightful journalism, that points out needs and offers solutions in a perceptive and compassionate manner for the greater good of all.  Read his article here.

Karen Fine from Westside News shared her feedback from the poverty simulation.  "The experience was overwhelming to me," she said.  "I can't imagine if my family had ever lost their home and had to live in a shelter, in a car or on the streets, with nowhere to turn, no support system."  Click here to read more about how she and her "family" better understand the day-to-day challenges faced by those living in poverty.

CCSI conducted a poverty simulation in Livingston County hosted by the Livingston County Department of Health, in conjunction with the Genesee Valley Health Partnership.  Read the article to learn more about this eye opening experience, including participants' insightful reactions.

Library systems from the Finger Lakes region brought together community leaders to participate in a poverty simulation where participants had the opportunity to "walk in the shoes" of individuals struggling with poverty. The goal of this exercise is to create empathy and understanding, and raise awareness of how biases, policies and practices work to create barriers in the community. Ultimately, they hope that library staff and their partners improve upon the services and resources they provide to their communities. Click here to read more.

Community Action for Wyoming County hosted CCSI's Poverty Simulation Training in Wyoming County for over 80 staff from 22 community service agencies. Read more about the workshop in Wyoming County and check out pictures from The Daily News – A life of poverty: Wyoming County workshop explores challenges, frustration and desperation.  (Please note: If viewing in Chrome or Safari, you'll need to answer a quick survey question and refresh the page to view the article.)