It's all about the STORY!

My latest Patch.com article: http://palmharbor.patch.com/articles/caregivers-help-communities-understand-the-hardships-of-poverty-723a8df3

More than one in six Floridians are living in poverty — the highest the state poverty rate has been in more than a decade, according to census figures recently released.

Sixteen percent of Floridians were below the poverty level in 2010, up from 14.6 percent in 2009, reflecting a continuation of a steady climb in recent years. Florida’s 2010 rate is the highest it has been since 1995, when it was 16.2 percent. The census data reflect the first full calendar year after the recession of December 2007 to June 2009. (Poverty rates published for local counties in 2009 included: Pinellas County, 13.3 percent; Hillsborough County, 15.2 percent; Pasco County, 13.2 percent; Manatee County, 14.4. percent; Sarasota County, 12.7 percent.)

As for today, October 2011, anecdotal evidence from local social service providers and unemployment statistics paints a picture that is increasingly bleak. This portrait has poverty levels rising even more day by day in response to our country’s current economic recession.

Understanding Leads to Solutions

JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County (JWB) recently partnered with Angelica Norton, founder and CEO of Seed Sowing Sister to create an innovative curriculum, The Poverty Experience. I had the opportunity to participate in The Poverty Experience a few months ago at The Hispanic Leadership Council’s annual conference, and the experience was profound.

The Poverty Experience is a simulation that lasts one hour — 15 minutes equals a day, and families are formed among groups of one to five strangers randomly assigned individual scenarios including age, income and needs of specific family members, rent payments and medical expenses.

Initially, participants are calm, exploring the long lines, politely smiling at one another, moving from station to station to buy food, pay rent, get food stamps, pawn belongings, get to doctor’s offices and buy bus passes.

That’s only for the first 15 minutes. After that, the simulation begins to hit home. People begin to realize they can’t make it. They have not had time and/or money to buy food. They keep getting sent to the back of long lines. They run out of money for transportation. Children wander off in the crowd, and the police remove the children from the families, charging them with abandonment and neglect. People get evicted from their homes because their rent is past due.

The behavior of the crowd changes. They rush from line to line and get annoyed when another person gets a job and they get turned down. Jealousy sinks in. Actual frustration and a sense of urgency take over, and the lightbulb goes off — this is how many of our neighbors live every day.

Core Hardships of Poverty

Five core problems arise when individuals are struggling in poverty. These include:

  1. Affordable housing
  2. Adequate food
  3. Transportation
  4. Affordable child care
  5. Access to communication: phones, addresses, email, Internet, etc.

Without these needs being met consistently, poverty can turn quickly into a downward spiral of progressive illnesses, homelessness and legal issues, including the potential of losing custody of children due to inadequate child care. I have included a video with this article (see above). Benjamin Kirby, communications director of JWB, interviews Jane Walker, executive director of Daystar Life Center, and they discuss many of these issues along with some real solutions.

Bring the Experience to Your Group

The Poverty Experience simulation is available to groups in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the nation. The simulation is designed to help deepen understanding and compassion, which often sparks solution-building.

To bring the simulation to your group, contact Angelica Norton, executive director of Seed Sowing Sister, at seedsowingsister@gmail.com; or Shelba Waldron, training manager of JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County, at swaldron@jwbpinellas.org.

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