Spring ‘17 Public Education: Poverty Simulation

Students, faculty, staff, and community members gather to experience the countless obstacles of living in poverty.

On March 17th, Dominican faculty, staff, students and other community members participated in a poverty simulation on campus. The Poverty Simulation, a role-play tool-kit that simulates a month of life in poverty, was designed to help participants understand the challenges facing homeless and low-income families. Downtown Streets Team Members, who had direct experiences living in homelessness and poverty, played the roles of institutions — payday loan shops, jails, schools, employers, banks, a homeless shelter, healthcare providers — based on their personal experiences and challenges accessing services.

The project was organized by student Hawi Awash ’17 as her senior thesis, and co-sponsored by Downtown Streets Team, Dominican University Black Student Union, Dominican Service-Learning Program, and Asian American Alliance of Marin. Read Marin Independent Journal’s coverage of the event here.

As Hawi observes in her thesis, “many participants realized the privileges they hold and felt shocked by the overwhelming amounts of emotional hardship and stress they felt undergoing the simulation. One participant stated:

‘I had heightened levels of stress. It was hard to focus on my job as I worried about my son in juvenile hall, my daughter pregnant, my husband unemployed/ sick, our house being robbed, etc. I never had enough time in the day to take care of basic needs such as cashing paycheck, paying bills, or even purchasing food”

An interesting perspective discussed by our participants focused on learning ‘first-hand’ just how frustrating it can be to acquire services while living in poverty. It is easy for those who are privileged to say ‘why don’t they just go to the homeless shelter?’ or ‘Why don’t they seek social services?’ yet they don’t even understand the first thing about the system and unforeseen challenges that people in poverty face on the daily.”

This challenging and transformative opportunity was brought to us through Downtown Streets Team (DST) and Hawi’s commitment to raise awareness about the suffering caused by poverty. DST is doing incredible work to support people to stabilize their lives through housing and jobs. Furthermore, DST works to raise awareness of the structural issues that perpetuate inequity and suffering. One DST Team Member shared her life story — she was a military officer, but after returning from abroad, became homeless, not once, but twice. The Poverty Simulation and the stories of the DST team members shows us how vulnerable we all are and inspires more understanding for those directly impacted by poverty and structural violence.

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