If you don’t understand a problem, how can you be part of the solution?
We host a poverty simulation called Living on the Edge, where people are given roles—single parent, senior with dementia, person experiencing homelessness, teen mother—and they try to make life work without very much money.
They try to pay their bills, fix their cars, and put enough food on the table for their families. It quickly becomes clear that the choices open to a person in poverty are very limited.
It’s eye-opening. It’s empathy-building. It makes Winnipeggers look around them and really see each other.
“When I headed back to my school, it was like a flood gate opened. I cried all the way.”
—Lorelei Bunkowsky, School Principal, after experiencing Living On The Edge.
Yesterday we shared Living on the Edge with Winnipeg Free Press participants.
We don’t call this experience a “game,” as poverty is certainly not a game. We do receive questions about the sensitivity of “pretending” to be poor.
It’s hard to start addressing poverty if you can’t relate to it. That’s why we offer the simulation, as an entry point for people who haven’t lived it.
We’re not the only United Way to offer these experiences—United Way of Alberta Capital Region facilitates one, as does United Way of Calgary. Calgary has also created an online version called “Make the Month,” challenging people to try to make it through a month of limited resources. Others have created similar online poverty experiences.
We want a Winnipeg where poverty is a thing of the past. As the country notes with dismay that the goal to end child poverty by the turn of the last century wasn’t accomplished—and 22.4% of children in Manitoba live in poverty—we think increasing understanding of the daily experience of poverty is critical.
The question of “now what?” is also important. Once you’ve experienced the frustration, worry and limitations imposed by poverty, what can you do with this information?
At the end of Living on the Edge, we ask people how this will impact their own lives. Will it change their actions, how they deal with people?
“If you take one thing away from the experience, we hope that when you see somebody who’s obviously living in poverty, and struggling, that you start to see them as individuals and not as a demographic. That you see them through the eyes of compassion.”
—Heather Block, Director, Strategic Initiatives, United Way of Winnipeg
We work with 100+ agency partners who are all responding to poverty in ways that make sense in their own neighbourhoods. Addressing the root causes of poverty in our city makes it stronger for us all.
We invite you to contribute and be part of that strength.