Editor's Note: Connect contributor Pat Longstreth participated in the most recent Poverty Simulation, a frequent event organized by Step Up Savannah for over a decade. He was inspired to file a three-part special report on his experiences. Here is Part Three.
SO FAR, in my experience as 20-year old new mother Rita Rodgers, I struggled to find childcare, transportation, and a job that would keep me above the poverty line.
In the process I gave up on college, was rude to government employees, and resorted to stealing a transportation pass.
I sat down for one last strategy meeting with my “Dad” and younger “Brother,” Roland. We did the math and concluded we would need $100 quick or face eviction.
There was no point in going back to my part-time job at the “Food Super Center” because I wouldn’t get paid until the end of the simulation. Instead, we decided as a family that our only chance was to take our wide screen “TVs” (slips of paper) to the “Pawn Shop & Gun Store.”
Dad went to work. Roland went to school. And I went on a last-ditch effort to save the family from financial ruin.
Along the way, I saw people lining up at the “Payday Advance” store. They were desperate to cash their paychecks before rent was due and they ended up here because the line at the “Bank” was too long.
“Folks who use check cashers can spend $800 a year to get their money,” said Kate Blair, Director of Development and Communications at Step Up Savannah.
Poverty is expensive.
I arrived at the Pawn Shop & Gun Store with our family’s prized widescreen TVs, valued at $350 each. “I’ll give you 90 bucks,” said the cashier.
As she was counting my money, I could see across the room that our chairs had already been turned upside-down and branded with the orange “evicted” sign.
Suddenly, there was an uproar. Dozens of people were moaning and throwing hands in the air. The General Employer did a mass layoff, including Dad.
A swirling mass of lost souls formed in the middle of the room. “Are you homeless too?” someone asked. “Where do we go now?”
I turned back to the cashier with a different request, “actually, can I buy a gun?” With no home and chaos brewing, at least the plastic toy water gun might prevent me from getting robbed (which I saw happen earlier).
In the remaining minutes, I stood back and reflected on the many potential outcomes of the simulation. There’s no way to predict how any one person might react when faced with limited resources and insurmountable financial pressure.
What would Rita do?
The words of Jenny from Forrest Gump came to mind. “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here.”
I thought about escaping with my baby, the gun, and a handful of transpo passes. But then I remembered that I was still waiting on my $50 paycheck from the Food Super Center.
As I was contemplating the robbery of my former boss at water gunpoint, the simulation came to an end.
Everyone seemed relieved.
“How many of you wanted to be poor?” Blair asked. Of course, no one raised their hand.
She then led a discussion about the forces that shape personal financial insolvency, as well as the widespread problem in Savannah.
In the end, it’s a fun, innovative way to learn and build camaraderie. If you’d like to host a Poverty Simulation for your school, organization or church group, feel free to contact Kate Blair at Step Up Savannah - firstname.lastname@example.org or (912) 232-6747
And if you want to alleviate poverty in real-life, visit www.handsonsavanah.org for a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities.