COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For one hour Wednesday night, community members got the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, but these shoes walk a long, tough road.
The Pikes Peak United Way held a Poverty Simulation as part of their “31 Days on Homelessness” to help raise awareness about homelessness and people living in poverty.
In the simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families.
“Many of us, we don’t have these huge bank accounts, but we do live a stable, safe life and what they are experiencing here right now are people who are just on the edge of homelessness,” said Amy Dinofrio, VP of Human Resources for Pikes Peak United Way.
Participants in the poverty simulation have to pay bills, find work and put food on the table.
“It puts them in a very stressful situation. It’s timed and the situations that they’re in are very tense and intense, and they get more intense as the weeks go on,” said Dinofrio.
It doesn’t take long before participants learn that sometimes they have to make some tough decisions in order to survive.
“I had to point a gun at this one girl because she cut us short of money,” said Kyler Ringstrom, a student at Rampart High School.
Ringstrom was playing the role of a 10 year old.
“I’m charged with attempted murder and robbery, so I’m here not rotting,” he said.
Ringstrom said the idea that a 10-year-old would have to make that kind of decision is hard to fathom.
“I don’t even have words to explain it. That’s kind of crazy if you ask me,” he said.
“I think our eyes can be opened a little bit and we’re able to see from a different vantage point and take off those preconceived notions of what we think poverty really is,” said Cara Vanderkolk, who works at Tri-Lakes Cares in Monument.
Dinofrio said Pikes Peak United Way uses this simulation to raise awareness and break down stereotypes.
“It starts with when people use the word ‘bum’ or ‘criminal’ and things like that,” she said. “They don’t give them a fair chance and this is giving them a fair chance. This is showing them the barriers that they go through every day.”
While the simulation is fake, the lessons that are learned are very real.
“What I learned from this is if I see somebody on the street, don’t just walk past them and glance and say ‘you’re a bum,’ because people have it really difficult and I didn’t realize that until probably today,” said Ringstrom.
Dinofrio said Pikes Peak United Way holds these simulations often for businesses and other community organizations, and anyone who is interested in participating in one can contact them at 719-632-1543.