Step Up’s Poverty Simulation
By Paula Lomazzi

“Walk a mile in my shoes” is exactly what about 50 mostly middle-class legislative staff, service providers and individuals did at Step Up’s Poverty Simulation on Wednesday downtown Sacramento at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento. They were invited by Step Up, an organization established by Catholic Charity members.

Step Up, with the help of Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, had recruited about 20 people who currently live in poverty to play the roles of service providers, police, social workers, bankers, landlords, store clerks, employers, other professions and criminals that a poor person may have interact with. They attended a brief training and were assigned their various roles.

Then there was a reception and press conference featuring Assemblymembers Roger Dickinson, Mariko Yamada, Nancy Skinner, Bonnie Lowenthal, Katcho Achadjian and Senator Carol Liu.

The participants pretending to be poor took their seats in their pseudo-homes or emergency shelter beds to begin their pseudo-day. They were given descriptions of their characters and their positions and given the meager financial resources (play money) to navigate through the end of the month. Each week was represented by a 15-minute period. At the end of each 15-minute period, they had to go “home” and plan the next week.

Participants found great difficulty deciding between paying for food or utilities, budgeting for childcare while starting their new jobs, or handling evictions and ending up in a homeless shelter.

James Little, a homeless member of Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, played the part of an illegal activities person. This role showed the middle-class participants one more possible obstacle by being robbed of their meager resources or having their teenage children tempted into criminal activities to try to alleviate their poverty. James really got into the part — he found a baby (doll) left at home alone, so he kidnapped it and left a ransom note.

Other children were taken to Child Protective Services for their assimilated neglect. Some people muddled through and successfully accomplished their simulated survival through the exercise, but many ended in disaster. The players on both sides of the table became emotionally invested in the simulation, and some seemed to actually experience the stress related to surviving the day with inadequate resources and support.

The Poverty Simulation’s purpose was to enable participants to view the real world of poverty, leading to maximum understanding and future positive action. You can watch some videos of the experience online.