Students experience poverty during simulation with Unified We Serve

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CSUN students were given an opportunity to experience the lives of families in poverty across the United States during a three hour event Wednesday night.Sponsored by volunteer organization Unified We Serve and held under this year’s theme of the empowerment movement, the event turned the USU’s Northridge Center room into a small city.“A lot of people don’t know how privileged we are,” said Maurie Hamilton, member of Unified We Serve who served in Oakland soup kitchens growing up.

Students were assigned to specific families, and role played as the members on their name tags and info packets provided by the group.

“Some people might know about the issue, but nothing beats the actual experience,” said Dominique Aguet, student volunteer with Unified We Serve.

Although the families’ names were created, their day to day living conditions in poverty were recreated to be as life-like as possible.

Stations simulated police stations with a jail, a pawn shop, quick cash centers, banks, childcare centers, public schools, temp agencies and social services.

Slightly less than the projected turn out of 100 students participated in the event, with about 80 volunteers working and playing along with the simulation.

Students were told to conduct their daily routines of their given roles within four 15-minute intervals, in hopes of reaching their shared goals of securing a home, feeding their families, and paying bills, loans and daily expenses.

The experience was relative considering no one can not fully simulate poverty, said Justin Weiss, activities coordinator for the Matador Involvement Center.

He said 15-minute intervals were chosen because that time period can go by slowly just sitting around, but with a goal in mind the time moves quickly, which is normal for a family.

“We want students to feel the pinch, and what it’s like during crunch time,” Weiss said.

Students were asked to take the task seriously, being reminded of the 32.9 million families in U.S. who live in poverty, and participants seemed to obey that request.

“It’s good to see the persistence of students when they come upon unfortunate circumstances,” said Latanza Price, Unified We Serve student assistant.  “It happens everyday and it’s a great feeling to bring that into light.”

Some students role playing led their simulated families to be evicted from their homes for not paying rent or unemployment.

Nicoyia Hurt’s character was sent to jail after ditching school at 16-years-old and pregnant.

“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” she said.

Other students felt the sting of the real world when their character’s experienced consistent push back.

“Everytime things started to look up, it took a turn for the worst,” said Dustin Merritt, whose character was killed.  “Something bad always happened.”

Others said the experience made them rethink their own lifestyle.

“I hope my life isn’t like this, it certainly makes me more thankful of my parents,” said Kristina Coleman, whose character died during the fourth round.

Students reflected on the nights’ simulation and compared their experience to that of actual families.

“A lot of the situations were similar to each other, transportation was always an issue, there was lots of tension everywhere and it was always packed,” said Meritt

But Weiss reminded participants of the reason why his organization called them to this event, not to feel pity but to start thinking.

“The question isn’t how sad it is, but how can we as Unified We Serve do something about it?” Weiss said.

Unified We Serve will give members an opportunity to meet impoverished families in the San Fernando Valley on October 29, and mentioned upcoming food drives to help those in need.

“Education and action are social justices,” Weiss said. “Both are powerful on their own, but together their even more effective.”


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  • Gimme a break…

    “Nicoyia Hurt’s character was sent to jail after ditching school at 16-years-old and pregnant.”

    Obviously this was not a very realistic scenario.  Who came up with this?  Did she rob a bank too?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003022775351&sk=wall Students for Liberty

    I lived my childhood in a state of poverty, and I must say that I feel a bit confused on how to take it that others are trying to simulate it. Simulating it quite poorly I might add; as it doesn’t sound as if they got past the economic hardship of the matter.

     As a child there were two things that have acted as solid validators for why to distrust big government. One of these is as follows;

    My sister would get sick very easily back then. We had attempted going to hospitals of course, but the administration there ended up making us wait in endless lines only to get over the counter medicine we already had and was not helping. Luckily we found a local who had a, not quite black but rather, ‘grey’ business in importing medicine from abroad. We tried it and it worked. Once though she got sicker than usual and we didn’t have the money to get her the medicine. What my father did was set up a makeshift food stand over the weekend to try to earn the money.

    For anyone whose really lived in poverty, you should know that at a given hour the police will come by to harass anyone operating a food stand without all the red tape. They’ll throw the food out, give out a fine etc etc. Fortunately my father wasn’t caught and we got the money for the medicine. For the entirety of the ordeal though I was scared that they would come, and very possibly start a chain of events that would lead to my younger sister not living past the week.

    Unless this event left the participants a deep fear of big government I doubt anyone left that day truly understanding what it is to be in poverty. What do I know though? I just lived it.

  • David the small-L libertarian

    Did they simulate cashing welfare checks, having children out of wedlock, watching daytime TV and voting for Democrats?

    While there certainly are those in need, some perspective is in order.  Read this 2007 report from the Heritage Foundation, How Poor Are America’s Poor? Examining the “Plague” of Poverty in America Excerpts are below:


    To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers-to look at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America’s “poor” live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of households equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.

    While the poor are generally well nourished, some poor families do experience temporary food shortages. But even this condition is relatively rare; 89 percent of the poor report their families have “enough” food to eat, while only 2 percent say they “often” do not have
    enough to eat.

    Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

    What Is Poverty?
    For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. For example, the “poverty Pulse” poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 2005 asked the general public the question: “How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?” The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs.

    But if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm Housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the 37 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor. While material hardship does exist in the United States, it is quite restricted in scope and severity. The average “poor” person, as defined
    by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.