Poverty simulation shows how poverty hurts everyone

United Way campaign event puts participants in the tough situations people living in poverty face every day.


(Edmonton) An 85-year-old widower finds himself newly evicted and surviving on a pension of $552 a month. With no family to help him, he is staying in a shelter, paying for arthritis medications not covered by health care, and making payments for his wife’s burial at a cost of $25 a month.

Total living expenses, if he is lucky enough to find housing, come to $615 a month.

Down the street, a family of youngsters headed by the eldest son, a 21-year-old attending college, is struggling to stay together while their father serves 45 days in prison, leaving them without an income, except for a $200 college stipend. Their monthly bills for rent, food and utilities total $1,295.

Both lean scenarios are plucked from real-life situations in the Edmonton capital region, and represent the plight of everyday people helped by the United Way.

The University of Alberta community has a chance to get some insight into what that desperate need feels like, with a poverty simulation exercise happening on campus Oct. 24. The event, in support of the U of A’s United Way campaign, is being hosted by the Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth and Families (CUP), which facilitates collaboration between the community and the university in these areas.

“The poverty simulation puts you in a situation where you are making day-to-day decisions with little money in your pocket,” said Jeff Bisanz, co-chair of the CUP steering committee. “It can have a profound influence on how you view things.”

“While the idea of eliminating poverty may seem crazy, it is possible,” added Bisanz, who also sits on the Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Poverty in Edmonton.

“Poverty is not just about low income levels; it is about people lacking resources to meaningfully participate in the community. It’s important for us to realize that it is possible to eliminate poverty, not just alleviate the symptoms. It will take a consistent and persistent effort on the part of the city, and for that to happen, it is important for people to be on board.”

The poverty simulation happening at the Van Vliet Centre this week supports that larger goal, Bisanz added.

“We as a U of A community have an important window of opportunity here to do something. The United Way is among several community agencies who are taking a leading role related to poverty, so here’s a way we can have an impact.”

Poverty, he added, is an issue for the whole community. “It affects not only the people who are in poverty, but we as taxpayers pay a huge amount in terms of health care and social service costs. Poverty should not be tolerable anymore, and we have an important responsibility to eliminate it.”

There are also other fun ways to help out the U of A United Way campaign, which wraps up Oct. 31.

Empty that jar of spare change and visit the atrium at Enterprise Square Oct. 21 for the Faculty of Extension’s garage sale to pick up a second-hand bargain.

A new addition to the event circuit, the Plasma Car Derby gets off and racing during the noon hour Oct. 31 at the Butterdome concourse. There will be awards for the fastest driver, and the one with the most sponsorship support.

On Nov. 5, brave and hardy U of A souls from the Alberta School of Business, led by dean Joseph Doucet, make a splash for cash at the Chillin’ for Charity event, diving into an ice-cold pool in Quad to raise funds for the cause. Everybody is invited to bundle up and turn out for the ninth annual event, which last year raised $7,400 for the United Way. This year’s goal is $10,000.

The U of A is also joining NAIT, MacEwan University, King’s University College, NorQuest College and Athabasca University in the 2014 Education Challenge, a friendly competition to gather various life essentials for United Way clients, including school supplies for children and steel-toed boots and tools for workers. For its part, the U of A has accepted the challenge of gathering hygiene supplies that are shared with United Way clients in need.

Needed supplies include shampoo for adults and babies, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bar soap, hand lotion, nail clippers, razors, Band-Aids, deodorant, socks, foot powder, feminine supplies and baby wipes.

Items can be donated during the week of Nov. 5 at several drop boxes around campus. Check the United Way website for your closest bin.

Shoppers with a competitive streak will want to take part in the annual Campus Auction Market, bidding online for all kinds of goodies with U of A flair, including artwork from the Faculty of Arts and a private tour of the Dino Lab in the Faculty of Science. Bidding begins Nov. 17 and closes at midnight Nov. 21.

For those in the U of A community who can’t make it to a fundraising event, it’s still easy to give. And all donations, big or small, make a significant impact in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.