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Economics & Economy

Poverty Simulation: Living Close to the Edge

Piedmont Court Appointed Special Advocates

Sixteen percent of children in Virginia live in poverty, and one in four families is considered working poor.  They’re in contact with teachers and principals, social workers and psychologists, and in some cases, police and judges, but those professionals may not understand what it means to be poor.

Families with two kids who earn less than $24,000 a year fall below the poverty line, and with that comes some unique challenges.  Alicia Lenahan is president of Piedmont CASA, a group that advocates for abused and neglected children in court.

“They are our neighbors, and it’s important for us to have a clearer understanding of what life is like to get from one day to the next, to keep a roof over your head, keep food on the table and your bills paid.”
So CASA - short for Court Appointed Special Advocates -- organized a half-day simulation of life in poverty.

“The participants will be divided into family groups, and everybody has their background story, and there’s a month, broken down into four week-long segments, and the weeks themselves are roughly 15 minutes.”

Lenahan recently took part in the simulation herself -- and was handed a rough lot in life.

“I was a 17-year-old living with mom and a younger sister.  Dad had recently abandoned us, leaving us with ten dollars.”

In her first week, she needed a job, and she had to get in touch with government services that could help the family keep its apartment, pay for food and utilities.  It was hard work, and by the end of the month Lenahan was homeless.

“We presented ourselves to the homeless shelter, which was full.  We’d been robbed, because also during the course of this experience you may be handed life incident cards.  Some are good news, some are bad news, but it really illustrates how close to the edge some people live.”

It was no wonder that her 12-year-old sister was struggling in school.

“Our energies were so focused on keeping body and soul together that helping her with her homework was just not something we had the time and the energy for.”

Transportation was also a big issue. The free program takes place February 21st in Charlottesville.  Lenahan hopes the simulation will help people to better understand the struggles of the poor and to provide better social services.

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