Our Coalition Director, Kathryn Johnson, attended South Carolina Office of Rural Health’s Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC and had the opportunity to participate in a Poverty Simulation held by SC Thrive.
Here is her take on the experience:
I had the opportunity to participate in SC Thrive’s Poverty Simulation as part of the South Carolina Office of Rural Health’s Annual Conference. Not only was this three hour simulation eye-opening it was also frustrating…in a meaningful way. Upon arriving, each person was assigned a role in a family, as well as provided with context of how they fit into their family. I played the role of Warren Wiscott, a 52 year old disabled, high school graduate. I, along with my wife, Winona, have been raising our two grandchildren ever since our daughter was incarcerated for drug use. As part of the simulation, we were provided with some cash, five transportation vouchers, social security cards, and our monthly budget including all expenses that we need to cover. Various agencies and organizations were present for us utilize to stay afloat throughout our month of living including: a bank, grocery store, homeless shelter, employment office, inter-faith agency, school, pawn shop, pay day lending service, jail, Department of Social Services, mortgage lender, and others. Using the resources we started with and the story lines provided, we were expected to navigate these various systems to make sure our family’s needs were met.
By the end of the hour, the Wiscott family had failed to purchase ANY food for the entire month, spent 100 dollars cashing checks at the bank they were not a member of, pawned some jewelry in order to buy more transportation passes, was evicted from their home for not paying the mortgage on time, AND lost custody of the two grandchildren after failing to provide supervision for them during their “spring break.” (Winona was at work and Warren (myself) spent too much time filling out an application for EBT that turns out…wouldn’t provide benefits until the following month. I didn’t have enough transportation tickets to bring our grandkids with me on my errands. Our neighbor, who wouldn’t watch our grandchildren for us, called DSS for neglect…imagine that.)
Having trouble following this journey? Me too…and I’m still confused. It was an hour spent trying to budget, considering how to get transportation to multiple agencies that weren’t talking to each other, and juggling our grandchildren. Now think, millions of people live this every day…no simulation needed.
This experience reminded me of the lake and the fish analysis. I was recently introduced to this concept by the Racial Equity Institute. It goes like this… you happen upon a lake that is filled with dead fish. You start to pull each fish out and nurse them back to health (for this analysis…it works!) When each fish has been revived, you throw it back in the lake only to come back days later and find all those newly revived fish, dead once again. So what’s up with this lake? Is it possible that the groundwater seeping into the lake is contaminated? Our lake in this example is representative of a system or the interconnectedness of many systems that hold power over one’s livelihood. If we relate this example to healthcare and the work we do in trying to fix one component of an individual’s health without considering the system this person will return to…we only put a band-aid on the issue at hand, expecting this person to survive in a world where all things are not held equal. Looking at the world through the lake and the fish analysis feels bleak and unchangeable. Fight this feeling. The fact that these simulations exist acknowledges that there are organizations ready to examine the “groundwater” that is killing our “fish.” Look at the system you work in and identify improvements needed through the lens of your patient/customer/client. Our immediate next step should be to demand that the gatekeepers to these systems participate in a Poverty Simulation for a hands-on look at the frustrating processes associated with the systems we hold in place for those that need help the most.