Poverty is an issue experienced by many families every day, but it is plagued with misconceptions by those who haven’t lived it.
Family Promise of the Flint Hills hopes to change all of that with a poverty simulation at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 at the First Baptist Church, 807 Constitution St.
Family Promise Chairman Doug Epp said the simulation will take participants through a month in the life of someone living in poverty by setting up different scenarios of issues that can adversely affect someone with limited means.
“What happens if the kids get sick and you need to take off work?” Epp said. “Or, maybe, a family member goes to jail and they have to come up with bail money. Maybe they get thrown out because of being late on rent. What are they going to do then, and what are the options available to them?”
Epp said about 15 stations will be set up for the event. After an introductory program, the participants will be given instructions and have a chance to interact with different organizations or businesses such as health centers, grocery stores, social services and law enforcement. Volunteers will be posted at each station and will provide assistance to the participants as they make their way through each scenario.
“People will go through what it’s like to live right on the edge of poverty,” he said. “They’ll spend about 15 minutes through (each scenario) and what they are going to do and the decisions they have to make.”
Epp said he went through a similar program as a teacher for the Emporia School District and the experience opened his eyes to what poverty is like for many people in the community.
“The thing that I think is most important is that it really totally changed my mind about what I would call the working poor, or people that are in poverty,” he said. “I grew up in a middle class existence, and I had no idea people lived any differently than I did, so I was caught up in my own little bubble. I think a lot of us that grew up in that — unless you’ve lived it you probably don’t really understand.”
Some of the misconceptions Epp said he had regarding poverty was that it was always the fault of those living it.
“I always had this idea that people that were in poverty generally were either lazy or unmotivated,” he said. “Going through the simulation, I had to change my mind about a lot of that. A lot of these things that happen are circumstantial. People don’t want to be in poverty, but if you have very few resources and very few contacts, you don’t have a good, solid network to help you. You can make very poor decisions based on the fact that you really don’t have very many options. That’s the thing that was really pointed out to me.”
Epp said that experience helped him better understand some of the problems his students at the time were facing.
“I changed my mind a lot about my students,” he said. “I had to look at my students differently because some of my students actually lived in those kinds of conditions. I had an awareness then that when they would make statements to me about not being able to afford a spiral notebook, or spending all night in the emergency room because their grandparents were sick and they had nowhere else to go, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they live a completely different existence that I did.’”
While Epp said he knows not everyone will have the same experience as he did going through the simulation, he hopes it opens the eyes of people around the community and generates more interest for Family Promise of the Flint Hills.
“It has motived me and a lot of other people to try and resolve some of these issues around homelessness even in a city like Emporia,” he said. “One of the things we have to overcome — not only as church folks but the community overall — is our attitudes about people who live right on the edge of poverty. It’s not a great place to be and people who are there don’t really want to be there. But how do we address that and how do we surround people to get them out of poverty?”
Epp said Family Promise of the Flint Hills has submitted the paperwork to acquire its 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation. More than half of the 13 churches needed to serve as host sites have formally agreed to participate in the program, and Epp said several more should be making decisions soon.
“We’re still actively working and we want churches and community organizations to consider helping out,” Epp said. “We feel like every month we get a little further, a little closer. I’d like to think we could launch sometime this spring, but it just depends on how fast people come on board I think. We think the community is very much in support of this thing, but we just have to get enough organizations and churches together to kind of get launched and bring in families.”
Those interested in participating in the poverty simulation need to pre-register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and requesting the sign-up link. The event is free, but Epp said registration will be maxed out at 80 participants.
For more information about Family Promise of the Flint Hills, call Epp at 620-481-9725.