The Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS) is a unique tool that community action agencies are able to use to educate everyone, from policy makers to local community leaders, about the typical day to day strategies of a low-income family trying to survive from month-to-month with a shortage of money and an abundance of stress. It is a simulation, not a game. The object is to sensitize participants to the hardships faced by real people. In post-experience surveys, over 85% of participants reported an above average or high level of increased knowledge about the financial pressures faced by low-income families in meeting basic needs.
Participants assume the roles of different families facing poverty. Some families are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the "breadwinner," some are homeless, while still others are senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement or grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of the participant/"families" is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute "weeks."
Participant descriptions of the benefits of this experience structure include:
"This exercise changed my preconceived notions about low income families. I now have an understanding of life for families living in poverty. Without living in poverty myself, I could never completely understand it before this."
"My role was a child with special needs. I felt what it was like to be ignored in school and at home. It was frustration beyond my imagination."
"This simulation structure quickly creates a real feeling of anxiety and a sence of urgency to get things under control."
The simulation is conducted in a large room with the "families" seated in groups in the center. Around the perimeter are tables representing community resources and services for the families. These services include a bank, super center, Community Action Agency, employer, utility company, pawn broker, grocery, school, and more.
Responses to the activity are varied yet powerful. Reactions have included:
“It was an eye opening experience”
“I kept thinking about families in my own community that may have these same issues everyday”
“Excellent insight into the daily difficulties of life in poverty.”
“This is a great way to help people understand poverty by experiencing the system.”
The experience lasts from two and a half to three hours. It includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period at the end of the simulation, in which A MINIMUM of 30 participants and 20 volunteer staffers share their feelings and experiences and talk about what they have learned about the lives of people in poverty. CAPS is a copyrighted tool made available by the Missouri Association for Community Action to organizations that want to promote a greater understanding of poverty.
For more information on hosting a Poverty Simulation in Kansas, click here.