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Poverty simulation planned in New Kensington

| Monday, April 28, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

About 20 percent of Arnold, Lower Burrell, and New Kensington residents make hard decisions every month.

Pay the rent or the electric bill? Buy food or medicine?

Westmoreland Community Action is aiming to show those who don't face such tough decisions what life is like at the poverty line.

The Community Action Poverty Simulation will task participants to make do with the small amount of money that one-in-five people in the tri-city area live on every month.

“Participants will experience, in one hour, the life of a person living in poverty for a month,” said Scott McMannis, the community connector for Westmoreland Community Action. The event will be held on Thursday at Westmoreland County Community College in New Kensington. “We'll go through one week in 15 minutes.

“It's a role playing-type of game, where each person gets a packet telling them who they are,” he said. “(Participants) have to do certain things. They get a little bit of money to start with. They pay some bills and have to go to different social service agencies.”

McMannis said many don't understand the struggles that come with being in poverty. That's where the simulation comes in.

“They'll have to decide whether to pay this bill or that bill,” he said. “Maybe they have a heating bill that's due and they can't pay it. They have to find where they can get help.”

People who have lived in poverty before will act as bill collectors and government agents, McMannis said.

“We want to turn the tables,” he said. “We've invited a bunch of people who will form the staff, people who have experienced poverty.

“They will help participants to understand their experience.”

For the simulation to be at its best, McMannis said there needs to be at least 44 participants.

“We want people to be able to stand in a line,” he said. “To see how hectic it can be when you need to go to a lot of places in a short amount of time.

“We want everyone to come,” McMannis continued. “But we really want people to come who work with people in poverty.

“Many times, those who have to interact with people in poverty every day never experienced poverty, so they don't understand the struggles.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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