Socio-economically, I grew up in a lower-middle-class family but was fortunate enough to always have most of my basic needs met. Currently, I have an associate’s degree from Heartland Community College and am currently a hybrid student with my primary concentration in Social Work through Liberty University Online. Since my program is exclusively online I am able to live and work in the Bloomington-Normal area. I have a dual role at YWCA; I am both a co-site coordinator and lead teacher in their youth development program and a NAEYC (National Accreditation for Education Young Children) intern in the Early Learning program. I have worked with children from most socio-economic classes and I chose to participate in the poverty simulation in order to better understand the issue of poverty as it relates to the children I work with and their families.
As everyone does, I brought to the poverty simulation some preconceived notions. Growing up in a lower socio-economic class I thought I understood a bit more than the average college student what poverty felt like. During the simulation, I was given the role of a homeless single mother who needed to secure housing and proper income in order to properly provide for her infant son. I was given a six-week time frame to experience the obstacles that can be present in the life of this woman. I should also note that my character did not have reliable transportation, no family support, and no high school diploma or work experience. Additionally, my son and I could only stay in the homeless shelter for two weeks
During the simulation, I experienced various things that changed my perception of poverty. Riding on public transit was time-consuming and made it almost impossible to make it anywhere during business hours. I could not secure housing after the first two weeks; I resorted to drastic measures to provide housing for my son like couch hopping at stranger’s homes and allowing my child to stay in foster care so I could get the proper resources for him. By the time I finally secured just a job, my child was no longer in my custody because I could not secure housing and food fast enough. Notably, I visited various social services provided within the fictional community to seek help but found that many of them offered minimal, temporary help that could not sustain my child and me long enough to focus on secure permanent housing and a job. Unfortunately, even having my child in foster care did not help because my child was adopted before I even had the chance to get everything together for him.
What this experience helped me to see was some of the real issues a person in poverty might face day to day and week to week. Additionally, I learned there are systematic obstacles that can hinder someone’s ability to get out of poverty. As an aspiring social worker I would like to believe that every community has a good social service system, but what I realized is social service agencies and churches cannot support the needs of each individual composing a community. Other public services like transit, the police department, even the grocery store are all catalysts to meeting needs in the community. Wealthy, middle-class, or poor, we all need our community and we all need each other. It would be wishful thinking to say we could eliminate poverty in Mclean County, but as a community, we have the ability to band together to reduce it.
If you are interested in participating in a Poverty Simulation, please visit the YWCA website or call YWCA at (309) 662-0461 to find out when the next one will take place.
Alicia is a hybrid student at Liberty University Online, majoring in Social Work. She works part-time in YWCA Young Wonders Youth Development and spends the rest of her time as an intern for Young Wonders.