Kalyn’s poverty simulation experience

“I felt my stomach slowly sinking,”—one Winnipegger’s experience with the Living on the Edge poverty simulation

As part of our commitment to a better Winnipeg, one of the areas we focus on is helping move people from poverty to possibility.

We provide an educational activity called Living on the Edge (LOTE), which is a poverty simulation in which people who haven’t struggled with poverty can see what it might be like for somebody who has.

Kalyn Maskiw-Connelly participated in just such a poverty simulation. The LOTE simulation moved her so much, she wrote a reflection about it and circulated it to the staff at her employer, Assiniboine Credit Union.

She was assigned to play the character of Emily, a fictional Winnipegger who lives in the North End with her two children.

Participants at a poverty simulation.

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“Throughout the whole exercise, I felt my stomach slowly sinking. Each time Emily would try to do anything to better her situation, she faced insurmountable obstacles,” says Kalyn.

“Each time she felt that she had overcome one obstacle, like when she finally purchased groceries for her kids, or when she finally paid rent in the last week, she was faced with an even bigger obstacle.”

Living on the Edge participants waiting their turn to access services.

The worries and stress of poverty

During the simulation, the participants take on the role of a family living on a low income and have to go through four short “weeks” of the family’s life. During these weeks, they have to complete tasks, such as sending their children to school, paying bills, finding work, buying groceries, getting childcare, cashing cheques, and more.

“Throughout the simulation, Emily’s children watched her struggle to find work and were at the receiving end of her frustration when she lashed out about the expenses they presented her with,” says Kalyn.

“It was never about Emily not wanting to be a grandmother or not wanting to buy school supplies—it was about her having a disproportionate amount of worries already and feeling as though she could not take on another.”

After Kalyn wrote this reflection piece, it inspired many other employees at Assiniboine Credit Union to donate to United Way Winnipeg.

“These organizations rely on our support.”

Kalyn had a lot to reflect on after her experience with the LOTE simulation.

“More broadly, what if less focus was placed on the individual and more were placed on the community as a whole? What if there were effective programs that helped people like Emily obtain the tools to find work, complete her education and get help for her son to redirect him away from the life of crime he seems to be headed towards?” asked Kalyn.

“Would Emily’s situation not have been much easier to rise out of if she didn’t have to bus to an employment centre to use a computer? These are attainable goals with the help of community organizations; however these organizations rely on our support—our investment, both financially and ideologically, in programs that have the potential to empower people to transform their own lives.”

Here is Kalyn’s full journal entry from the perspective of Emily.

September 10

The EIA office told me that they didn’t have enough time to process my application and passed me a few food vouchers and a rental subsidy cheque. They asked me all kinds of personal questions about my relationship with my husband and didn’t look impressed that he isn’t going to be paying child support… I took the vouchers and bought my kids groceries. We haven’t had a real meal in a week and there was nothing left in the cupboard.

September 17

I’m worried about my son. After his father left he dropped out of school. I’ve seen him hanging around the convenience store and I think his new friends are up to no good. He doesn’t listen to me anymore…

September 23

I took a bus to the job centre to try to find work, and you know what they told me? That 17 years is a long time to be out of work, and they have no work for me this week, but they’ll keep my resume on file and I can check back next week… What’s worse, my son told me today his girlfriend pregnant. Where am I supposed to find the money to feed another mouth? I doubt he’ll go and get a job—who will hire him with no education?

September 26

I got a notice today that my utilities are all overdue, they’re threatening to cut us off and we haven’t even made rent yet. To make matters worse I’m convinced my son is dealing drugs. I could never turn him in… he’s my boy, and I know he’s a good boy deep down…

September 30

Today I went to pay my rent. It was past due and there was an eviction notice on my apartment door. I went and paid it with some money I got from selling our tv, stereo and microwave… the woman at the Pawn shop ripped us off big time. $105 she gave us… for all three! It wasn’t fair, but I had no choice. My kids needed a roof over their heads. I sold some food vouchers too, and took the cash to the landlord straight away. I paid the rent and went home to find my daughter, who has been home from school all week, complaining that she doesn’t have any money for school supplies! I told her to get a babysitting job and she can buy them herself.

October 3

I came home from the job centre today and there was another eviction notice on my apartment door. I couldn’t understand it, I paid rent in full just the other day! I went to talk to the landlord and he said that he never got the money. I handed it right to his son and he walked right by the front door and nodded at me! That kid must have stolen my money! I have nowhere to go, we can’t even go get our things (or what’s left of them), we have no money… I’m not even sure the women’s shelter in my area will take in a seventeen year old boy… I feel powerless… I have no hope…