Poverty Simulation at Inver Hills

Homeless person
A homeless person on the streets of Portland, Oregon.

More than 90 participants conducting exercise April 8 in IHCC Activities building

The Sociology Club at Inver Hills Community College is hosting a Community Action Poverty Simulation, or CAPS, in the Activities building gym on the college’s main campus in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., Tuesday, April 8, 2014, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Melissa Bunde, a sociology instructor at the college, is the driving force behind CAPS. This year marks the fourth time Bunde has planned, organized and coordinated the event. She volunteers well over 100 hours of her time making sure the three-hour simulation exercise (not a game) provides maximum opportunities for participants to become more sensitized to the challenges faced by people lacking adequate income.

According to the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, the official poverty rate in the United States in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which translates as 46.5 million people living in poverty.

Bunde pointed out that the poverty simulation experience is a learning tool that helps participants understand the day-to-day realities of life below the poverty line. “During the simulation, student participants role-play the lives of individuals in low-income families,” she said. “Some are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, some are disabled, some are senior citizens on Social Security, some are recently unemployed, some are homeless. They are given the stressful task of providing basic necessities, including shelter, for their families on very limited budgets.”

The 72 participants role-playing low-income people are Inver Hills students from a wide variety of academic programs, including sociology, economics, psychology, math and more. Over the course of four 20-minute ‘weeks,’ the students interact with 20 volunteer staffers whose roles are filled by faculty, staff and students from the college. Bunde holds four orientations with the staffers so that they can perform their roles as service and resource providers with as much realism as possible.

Volunteer staffer roles include:

  • Banker/Loan Collector (handles bank business such as loans and savings accounts)
  • Quik Cash Worker (sells transportation passes; cashes checks for a fee)
  • Community Action Staff (makes referrals for services; operates food pantry)
  • Supercenter Clerk (accepts food stamps; sells groceries, clothing and prescriptions)
  • Mortgage/Rent Collector (collects mortgage payments and rent)
  • Pawnbroker (pays half value for pawned items; gives out payday loans)
  • Police Officer (responds to criminal activity)
  • Utility Collector (collects fees; sends out shut-off notices)
  • Social Service Office Receptionist (orients clients and makes them fill out forms)
  • Social Service Office Caseworker #1 (works with clients to meet various needs)
  • Social Service Office Caseworker #2 (works with clients to meet various needs)
  • Schoolteacher (teaches with limited resources; interacts with parents)
  • Employer (hires, fires and supervises employees)
  • Childcare Worker (works with families to cover childcare needs)
  • Inter-Faith Service Worker (operates homeless shelter)
  • “Illegal Activities” Person (sells illicit drugs, pilfers valuables, robs people and lures youth into crime)

The CAPS experience includes a briefing and introduction, the simulation exercise, and a debriefing afterwards that allows student participants and volunteer staffers to share what they have discovered regarding the problems and distress encountered daily by people living in poverty.

Melissa Bunde is passionate about fighting poverty through the Community Action Poverty Simulation—and she has found that people on campus are just as excited about taking part in the exercise. “This year when I sent out an e-mail inviting faculty and their students to participate in CAPS, I was flooded with positive responses,” Bunde said. She added that nonparticipants are more than welcome to attend the event and observe the simulation exercise.

Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Activities Building Gym
Inver Hills Community College
2500 East 80th Street
Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076

For more information about the Community Action Poverty Simulation at Inver Hills Community College, contact:

Melissa Bunde
Sociology Instructor

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