Poverty Experience – “Billy”

I recently attended a poverty simulation hosted by Young Professionals and Circles of Hope. I had never participated in something like this before, so, I didn’t know what to expect. I was assigned to a family of six and each of us were given a role to play. We had a handout that talked about our bills and the individual characters we were to play. I was assigned “Billy” the eldest of three children. I had dropped out of high school and had a drug problem. My task was to find a job and help contribute to the family. I was told, “I will do almost anything to get money.”

Week one: We decided I would apply for a minimum wage job where my dad worked because we only had one car and walking would take a lot of time. I applied for the job and was told to come back in a week for an interview.  About this time, the local pawnshop owner told me I could make some extra cash if I worked with him selling “Sugar”. He loaned me five packets and said I owed him $20 for each so I figured I would sell them for $40 and make some quick cash. This would come back to bite me, in the end. In the first week, my sister was expelled from high school and my 8-year-old brother was left alone after school all week. Luckily, child services didn’t find out. I noticed at this point in the simulation that there was not much time to do all that needed to be done. With only one car, we really had to communicate on what we were doing or everything would end up falling apart.

Week two: After we finished dropping everyone off at the various places they needed to be that day, I went to the interview and got the job. My job was to shake people’s hands. I took advantage of this time to try to sell some “sugar”. The problem was no one was buying. I owed a sugar dealer $100 and was worried I was not going to be able to pay him back.

Week Three: after work, I was caught trying to deal sugar by the police and spent a good amount of time in jail. I had to pay a fine but was able to get out at the end of the week. I was told I would be sent back if I was seen with the pawnshop owner.  Luckily, my employer didn’t find out about this incident and I was able to go back to work the next week.

Week Four: The rest of my time was spent hiding from the pawnshop owner and trying to make enough money to pay bills. It came down to the last second but between the six of us, we were able to pay all the bills and the attorney fee for my court hearing.

The Poverty Simulation was a real eye-opener. I talked with some of the others who were there and realized we had done better than most. The person assigned the role of the single mother had lost her child to protective services because she had to be at work. Someone had lost their home and many were in the hole at the end of the month. We all talked about our experiences and about how we had seen this in our own community. The point of this simulation was to raise awareness of the problem of poverty. After getting to know those who attended, I realized almost all of them have been in poverty at one point in their lives or are currently working with people in poverty. The people who really needed to know about this issue weren’t there.

Over 12% of Kansas’ population lives in poverty.  That is over 340,000 people who struggle daily just to live their lives. America has more money than almost any other country, but funding for programs that help families in need is cut every year. This problem can be fixed but it will take all of us working together to change it. If everyone does a little, it will go a long way.

-Adam F.