Community Leaders Take Part in Poverty Simulation

Poverty Simulation participants had to struggle to pay for necessities, Oct. 23, 2013.

Poverty Simulation participants had to struggle to pay for necessities, Oct. 23, 2013.

Business and community leaders joined Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild in a poverty simulation, where participants suddenly were thrust into the life of a low-income family and forced to make hard decisions about how to pay their rent, mortgage, bills and other expenses, such as food.

The exercise, at the Unisource Building on East Broadway, was coordinated by the Mayor’s Commission on Poverty. Participants included Mayor Rothschild, elected leaders, bankers, judges, journalists, and many others.

”This simulation, as you know, is not a game. It’s not an exercise in self-indulgence,” Rothschild said. “It’s a proven method to help folks better understand the day-to-day realities of living in poverty in the United States, to reflect on that experience and to come up with ways we can help.”

Dr. Richard Carmona at Poverty Simulation, Oct. 23, 2103.

Dr. Richard Carmona addresses participants at the Poverty Simulation.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona opened the simulation, giving participants a strict set of rules to follow and telling them they would learn what steps they could take after the exercise to help reduce poverty in our community.

“These profiles come from actual family situations, “ Carmona said. “They typify the average – or vast majority – of low-income households.”

The simulation consisted of four, 15-minute weeks. Participants had to keep their homes safe, feed their families, pay for daycare, utilities and loans, meet unexpected situations and use social services and other help. A pawn shop was included in the exercise to help people get badly-needed money, but the workers there were rather picky about what they would accept.

Mayor Rothschild tries to pawn items to help his make-believe family pay bills during the Poverty Simulation, Oct. 23, 2013.

Mayor Rothschild tries to pawn items to help his make-believe family pay bills during the Poverty Simulation.

After the simulation, the participants gathered in groups to discuss what they learned. Some said they were stressed and tired from all of the running around they had to do, while others were forced to make some rather unethical decisions. In one scenario, a woman was the recipient of a bank error that paid her an extra $200. She took the money to help her meet expenses.

While some of the families in the exercise managed to succeed, others did not and were evicted from their homes.

Mayor Rothschild played a role of the patriarch of a struggling family, which had to make some hard choices. They fought and struggled, but made everything work. After seeing others evicted, or unable to pay bills, he realized his make-believe family wasn’t as bad off as he first thought.

Transportation passes were a big part of the Poverty Simulation, Oct. 23, 2013.

Transportation passes were a big part of the Poverty Simulation.

“We cannot stop here and we cannot stop today,” Rothschild said. “Each one of us needs to take what we have learned and use our positions of leadership in this community to make positive, practical changes.”

At the end of the wrap-up discussion, the participants agreed there is a need for one-stop services in Tucson, so people don’t have to travel from place to place to get help, which often is difficult because of transportation and time limitations.

The volunteers also filled out “commitment cards” saying what they would do to help address poverty in Tucson.

Poverty in Tucson

Tucson has an awful lot going for it, but some things need improvement. In 2011, Tucson was the sixth-poorest large metropolitan area in the country, with a poverty rate of 20.4%. This is unacceptable. We can, and must, do better. We’re focusing on:

  • Job creation
  • Developing a HUD Coordinated Entry System to social services
  • Developing self-sufficiency strategies for low-income Tucsonans

How you can help

  • If you’re an employer, consider giving a job or internship to a young person, a refugee, or another deserving person who just needs a chance to succeed.
  • Support the Food Bank and other organizations that help the poor. Remember that the Food Bank can buy more food with your donation than you can—almost $9 of food for every $1 donated.
  • Volunteer with an adult literacy program through Literacy Connects, the International Rescue Committee or another organization.
  • Keep an eye out for your neighbors, especially seniors or those who might need extra help. We all need to care for one another.

Job creation

What the Mayor’s Poverty Task Force is doing

  • Holding an Employers Roundtable, to grow the pool of employers willing to provide jobs and internships to Tucson-area youth
  • Mayor acknowledging employers who hire refugees

Apart from my Poverty Task Force, I continue to work with local businesses and economic development groups on job creation, focusing on downtown development, entrepreneurship, international trade and tourism, science and technology, small business assistance, and other initiatives.

Coordinated Entry System

What the Mayor’s Poverty Task Force is doing

  • Received a HUD technical assistance grant to begin the process of creating a Coordinated Entry System for the homeless population, initially for  families and youth
  • A Coordinated Entry System serves two goals:
    • Reduce time spent homeless—return to permanent housing within 30 days
    • Link homeless with appropriate housing and social services to foster long-term self-sufficiency

Self-sufficiency strategies

What the Mayor’s Poverty Task Force is doing

  • Researching policies and programs that yield a high ROI (return on investment)
    • Asset building (microsavings)
    • Food security (access to affordable, healthy food; community & backyard gardens)
    • Resource sharing (housing, transportation)
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