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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

A poor lesson

I've been poor. There were no food stamps when I was growing up, but our family qualified for the government commodities program. I remember standing in line with my parents waiting to pick up staples such as potatoes and powdered milk and giant blocks of orange-looking cheese. I guess that qualifies me to have a skeptical attitude about this:

Area residents are invited to experience the virtual realities of poverty in a simulation hosted by Community Action of Northeast Indiana May 20 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at The Freemasons Hall, 216 E. Washington Blvd., Fort Wayne.

[. . .]

This program helps people understand the complexities and frustrations of living in poverty day to day,” said Steve Hoffman, CANI executive director. “With a greater awareness of its impact, we can more effectively address the poverty issues in our community.”

Using a simulation kit, participants will role-play the lives of low-income families. Some are TANF recipients, some are disabled, and others are senior citizens on Social Security. They will be faced with the stressful task of providing for basic necessities and shelter on a limited budget during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.” They will interact with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers and others.

Ah, the "virtual realities of poverty." Let's be charitable and just call it well-intentioned but misguided to suppose that we can "understand the complexities and frustrations of living in poverty day to day" by using a "simulation kit" in which a week is 15 minutes. We can no more grasp poverty in a three-hour workshop than those students with their empathetic camping can grasp homelessness by sleeping on the lawn overnight. The reality of poverty is not "day to day," it's "day after day after day" in which nothing ever changes except for the worst and hope dims with every one of them. You can't begin fathom that if you know you're going back to your regular life as soon as the simulation ends in three hours.

And's what's the purpose of the exercise? To learn how to make the poor more comfortable in their circumstances? Volunteer for a soup kitchen. To help them escape their poverty, a far nobler intent? Become a literacy tutor. Merely to become a more sensitive, understanding person? Watch PBS.

Poverty sucks. Don't be poor. End of lesson, and you have 2 hours, 59 minutes and 55 seconds to spare.


Mon, 05/10/2010 - 11:00am

Apropos of this, I'd like to recommend William Shatner and Joe Jackson's version of "Common People"


You will never understand
how it feels to live your life
with no meaning or control
and with nowhere left to go.

You're amazed that they exist
and they burn so bright,
while you can only wonder why.

Rent a flat above a shop.
Cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool.
Pretend you never went to school.

But still, you'll never get it right.
'Cause When you're lying in bed at night
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you called your Dad he could stop it all.

You'll never live like common people
You'll never do what common people do.
You'll never fail like common people.
You'll never watch your life slide out of view
and dance and drink and screw
because there's nothing else to do.

Mon, 05/10/2010 - 12:32pm

We have to stop agreeing so much.
You can pretend you're poor for a week, but nothing can make you forget you've got five year's pay sitting in your saving's account. To actually feel poor, you've got to actually be poor.