United Way of Chester County kicked off Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week by hosting its first Poverty Simulation on Thursday, November 08, 2012. The event is aimed at illuminating the reality of the poverty in Chester County that often goes unnoticed by the majority of residents and was facilitated by Mike Givler, Ed.D. who recently retired from the Chester County Department of Community Development.
Givler stated, “The Poverty Simulation exercise sensitizes and educates participants to the plight of low-income families and how they are forced to survive on limited resources. The experience of attempting to traverse the gauntlet of the available network is impactful for those who are not otherwise exposed to the issue of poverty in Chester County.”
Nearly 90 individuals from the local public and private sectors participated in the Simulation, including employees from Citadel Federal Credit Union, Janssen Biotech, Bentley Systems, students from Harcum College, West Chester and Millersville Universities, participants from the Leadership Chester County Class of 2013, and members of United Way’s Financial Stability Partnership.
Simulation participant Carol Revak tweeted that the activity gave her “amazing insights into what it is like to live in poverty in Chester County.”
An anonymous participant expressed “For us it’s just a game, but for other people this is real life. How do you choose between things like food or medicine? Work or day care? It’s shocking. My perspective has been altered.”
One out of every 5 children in Chester County goes to bed hungry and there are at least 600 identified men, women, and children without a permanent, safe place to call home on any given night.
Hunger and homelessness are an outcome of poverty. The poverty line nationally is roughly $23,800 a year for a 3 person household. In Chester County the cost of living is much higher than in other areas of the country. According to Pathways PA, a family with two children would need an income of more than $49,000 to remain self sufficient.
Chester County Director of Community Development Pat Bokovitz spoke about the efforts to alleviate and improve systems and move people to self-sufficiency by breaking the cycle. “Thank you to United Way for taking the leadership to convene this group today. One of Chester County’s strengths is our network of nonprofits. Whether you see it every day or not, poverty exists in Chester County and we have a number of plans to reduce and eliminate it, getting ahead of the problem before it becomes any worse.”
National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is November 10 - November 17, 2012. Locally the goal is the create awareness around the inexcusable hunger and homelessness that plagues Chester County. Faith communities, schools, service organizations, local businesses and corporations are encouraged to get involved in food and clothing drives, educational forums and other events in order to speak out, united, as a community.
Poverty Simulation facilitator Mike Givler explained to participants “This exercise sensitizes and educates participants to the plight of low-income families and how they are forced to survive on limited resources.”
Poverty simulation participants spend time at a mock employer while also attempting to navigate a myriad of other obligations during the exercise. Participants were given a number of tasks that had to be completed during a 15-minute “week,” including work, family obligations, and other responsibilities. Many participants reflected that they were “constantly in a mode of survival and could never get ahead” and that the “helplessness and frustration mounted making everyday decisions difficult.”
Eric Forsythe of Open Hearth, Inc. (l) and Toren Peterson of United Way (r) staffed the mock pawn shop during the Poverty Simulation. Both took a lighthearted approach to the role but participants were aware of the serious nature of some individuals being forced into crime as an option to provide for their families. Many participants reflected that they can understand why some become so frustrated that they see crime as their only option for survival.