EATON — The Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) was held for the first time in Preble County on Friday, Oct. 26 and had 60 volunteers and participants experience a taste of what it is like to live in poverty.
Preble County Job & Family Services, Preble County United Way, and the Preble County Mental Health & Recovery Board joined together to bring the simulation to the area, so residents and local leaders could learn more about poverty in the area.
Their hope is that, from this experience, the community will be able to more effectively work with low-income families as they understand the complexities of poverty, paving the way to address the issues more comprehensively.
According to Omnicom Solutions Group, COPE is a training that offers participants a glimpse into the lives of low-income individuals and families living in our communities. It is a look into the obstacles that are faced, the decisions that are made, and the consequences that impact these families every day.
The CareSource Foundation partnered with Think Tank to develop COPE, which was co-designed with low-income individuals who have shared their story so that the participants could gain greater understanding.
Every participant was handed a booklet that listed their role and story-line. Participants were put into different families unit – starting with one member families and going up to five or six. There were mothers, father’s, grandparents, and children alike. They all had to live through a month in poverty.
The simulation was broken down into four 15-minute weeks. In those 15 minutes, a family had to pay their bills, buy groceries, go to school, go to work, and do any other tasks that were required in their storyline. Some families had to go to court, or to the doctor to get medication.
COPE takes into consideration the different obstacles families have to face.
Different decisions had time penalties, all while each family is trying accomplish all their tasks before the week runs out.
If a family did not have a car and did not want to spend money on a bus pass, they could walk for free, but they lost three minutes out of their week. There was also a police officer penalizing families for acts like speeding or child neglect of the doll they called their baby.
“I’m really excited that we were able to bring this to Preble County. I just want you to know that we are not here today to convince you to think differently of people living in poverty. We are here to give you a little bit of an experience of what it is like for those living in poverty in our county,” Director of Job and Family Services Becky Sorrell said.
“I have worked at Job and Family Services for almost 30 years and I am familiar with people living in poverty, that is who I work with. I did this program myself, I was a participant a couple year ago. At the end of the program, my family ended up in the homeless shelter and I had to pawn my grandmother’s wheelchair to get out of jail. That is the kind of experience this is.”
“There are 41 million Americans living in poverty — I thought you might be interested to know what those statistics are for us,” Sorrell noted. “In Ohio, there are 1.7 million people living in poverty and in Preble County we have 5,000 people living in poverty. Those are the statistics as of June of 2018.
“When we talk about living in poverty, a lot of us know what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and maybe pack our lunch for a week, because we odn’t have the extra cash to eat out. A lot of us knows what it is like to have our adult children ask us to help pay their rent or buy some diapers, but living in poverty means you don’t have that kind of resource. You don’t have a parent that can help you out, so you are looking for an organization or a church that can help.”
Following the simulation, there was a debriefing period held where participants had an opportunity to talk about what they learned or experienced.
For Preble County Commissioners Chris Day and Rodney Creech, it was an eye-opening experience.
“We were a family with several challenges. We started out okay, but somebody stole a lot of our stuff, which put us behind the first week,” Day said. “It was difficult just to get all of our bills paid and know the right place to go. The challenge was getting to the right entity at the right time and only having 15 minutes to get it done.”
“What I noticed through this was the road blocks and hoops that have to be jumped through. It it not simply going someplace and getting what they need, it is waiting in line or they were turned away. What I picked up from it, we want people who are down and out to get a job and support their families, but maybe they don’t have time because the hoops they have to jump through,” Creech said. “The big thing I realized from this simulation was the lack of resources they face. They don’t have that family network in a lot of cases, so if they need financial support or someone to watch the kids. They have the stress of trying to raise their family and provide for them.”
“The one difference for our county, if somebody has someone in their office and they know their needs, they can make a phone call and try to help them like that. I don’t think the challenges are as enormous as some of the stuff we ran into today, but I think our county does a very good job of talking to each other and meeting needs,” Day said.
At the end of the experience, every participant had the opportunity to donate $10 using the United Way’s “dip jar.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH