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The poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month.  It is a simulation, not a game.  The object is to sensitize participants to the realities faced by low-income people. In the simulation, 50 to 88 participants assume the roles of up to 26 different families facing poverty. It is recommended that dolls be used for the 1-3 year old children, as these roles do not actively participate in the simulation. (If you use dolls in these roles the number of active participants is reduced to 80.) Some families are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the “breadwinner,” some are homeless, and others are recipients of TANF, either with or without additional earned income. Still others are senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement or grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of the “families” is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 7-minute“weeks.” The simulation is conducted in a large room with the “families” seated in groups in the center.

Around the perimeter are tables representing community resources and services for the families. These services include a bank, super center, Community Action Agency, employer, utility company, pawn broker, grocery, social service agency, faith-based agency, payday and title loan facility, mortgage company, school, and child care center. People are recruited to staff the resource tables. Support staffers are also recruited to assume the roles of police officer and an “illegal activities” person. The experience lasts for 90 minutes. It includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period in which participants and volunteer staffers share their feelings and experiences and talk about what they have learned about the lives of people in poverty.




  1. Understanding people from generational, working class, situational, and immigrant poverty.

  2. Providing structure for a better-communication with people coming from and oral culture and engaging a print culture.

  3. Provides increase awareness and understanding about the real causes of poverty — Educating people living in poverty (Neighbors) and volunteers (Navigators and Specialty Navigators) — then connecting Navigators and Neighbors in strong relationships.

  4. Trains community professionals to serve as Specialty Navigators and support the efforts of Navigators who are working to access resources and opportunities for their neighbors.

  5. Builds capacity of helping professionals who serve people in poverty.

  6. Introduction to the Science of Hope connecting resiliency with motivation, goals and clear pathways.

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