Red Deer College social work students got a taste on Thursday of the stress that impoverished Red Deerians experience every day.
United Way Central Alberta and the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance put on a poverty simulation workshop in the classroom with about 70 students who were organized into small groups representing families living in poverty. They were given limited resources like a few bus vouchers and low-wage jobs to make it through one month.
First year student Jessica Philips called it an intense hour-long workshop that left her frustrated.
She assumed the role of a grandmother who lived with her husband and cared for their granddaughter because their daughter could not.
“I was exhausted and stress out and kind of sad because no matter what I did it wasn’t good enough. You work really hard and you get pretty much nothing,” Philips said.
Philip’s character worked 40 hours a week, earning $10.75 an hour. Her husband was on disability leave and received only $500 a month.
“At first it was really hard because my family couldn’t afford to buy food for the first two weeks.
“We got an eviction notice pretty much the first week in, which was stressful. We had debts at the bank we needed to pay right off the bat. That put a damper on our funds too.”
Philips had enough bus vouchers to get to work, but not enough vouchers to hop the bus home from work.
Volunteers representing different community agencies were set up in the classroom for students to visit to get information and assistance.
“They were giving away food vouchers and things like that, but I personally didn’t know, or even have time to ask for that stuff. I pretty much went to work and went to the bank immediately to get enough money to pay the mortgage and the power bill and for groceries.”
She said poverty simulation showed her how important it is for social workers to advocate on behalf of their clients and for the people to open their eyes to the poverty that exists in their community.
“People don’t even know what poverty is really. You don’t know until you’re in it,” Philips said.
About 400,000 Albertans are living in poverty, including 143,000 children. In Red Deer, about 15 per cent of families live in poverty.
According to Alberta Food Banks, one in 10 households are food insecure and food bank usage increased 75 per cent from 2014 to 2015.
It was the third poverty simulation workshop the United Way and Alliance have held in the area and more can be organized for those interested.
Jennifer Forrest, resource development employee with the United Way, said poverty simulation has a powerful impact on participants and she hoped people will share their experiences.
“We’re trying to make those dynamics real so they can understand the struggle,” Forrest said.
“It’s not a game. We’re treating it as a real simulation. The family dynamics are based on real families.”