United Way of Winnipeg put on its second annual poverty simulation last week.
The poverty simulation, called Living on the Edge, is a three-hour role-playing event in which participants experience what it’s like to live in poverty. The event took place at the University of Winnipeg’s Convocation Hall on the evening of Sept. 23.
Around 25 people attended Living on the Edge. At the event, each participant is assigned an identity and placed in a family. Each family must follow a scenario for three hours.
"Over the first hour or so, they have to fulfil all of their responsibilities. Each 15 minutes represents a week, so they will act out four weeks. During that time, they have to go to work if they have a job. If they don’t, they have to get one. If they’re students, they go to school. They have to make mortgage, pay for utilities and food, all the day-to-day things a person struggles to do," said Heather Block, director of strategic initiatives for the United Way of Winnipeg.
The second hour or so is dedicated to discussing the experience. Kevin Chipman, a first-time Living on the Edge attendee, played the part of a 50-year-old man who was on disability leave.
"I had a wife who worked minimum wage. Our daughter was in prison, so we were the caregivers to her children," Chipman said of his scenario. "As someone who was unable to work, I spent the entire day working (in other ways) and trying to ensure that our electricity stayed on, that we didn’t lose our home, that the children were in school. I was exhausted!"
Block said she was impressed by how deeply into character the participants got.
"When I do the introduction, I can tell by people’s body language that they think, ‘Really? Role-playing?’, but after the first 15 minutes, people are so immersed in it, much beyond what they would have anticipated."
Block said this exercise is best for groups of 30 to 80 people, and if organizations would like to host their own poverty simulation, they should email Hillary Gair at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 204-924-4264.