On February 24th HDB hosted the Cost of Poverty Experience for over 40 local Delray Beach leaders with the help of Palm Beach County Community Services Department and 18 volunteers. The attendees spent the morning immersed in the exercise with the goal to experience what poverty is like and what that means in Delray Beach.
What is the Cost of Poverty Experience?
The Cost of Poverty Experience (C.O.P.E.) is an exercise meant for individuals and leaders who may have never experienced poverty to understand what it can mean for a family. Attendees were divided into mock family groups and were asked to live out the scenarios and life experiences provided to them.
The simulation is split into 4 weeks, each represented by 15 minutes. Within each week participants have a list of tasks to complete, such as going to work or school, cashing checks, filling prescriptions, going grocery shopping, paying bills, appearing for court, going to the probation office, and more. With these tasks come needs – a need for cash, a need for child care, a need for support. Family’s profiles also featured challenges such as a child with a mental health concern, a parent with a felony conviction, a child with special needs, an adult with PTSD, and many other real issues that people in poverty deal with every day.
The Impact of C.O.P.E.
As the weeks wore on people became increasingly desperate to complete their assigned tasks in the allotted time. It was then that my own volunteer role, the criminal, became more interesting.
In the beginning of the mock weeks I was, admittedly, relatively unsuccessful in selling my illegal walking passes or intercepting desperate families at the pawn shop to buy their possessions at a less valued (but faster) price. However, as weeks wore on, not only did people become easier to persuade into illegal activity, such as purchasing fake prescriptions or unmarked walking passes, they actually began approaching me. Family members came to me to sell their unwanted prescriptions, offering to sell some walking passes for me at a split profit – someone even offered to buy my gun off me.
While this turn of events felt comical at times – seeing board members and CEOs turn to a life of crime in a matter of a half an hour, it also highlighted a very real fact. Oftentimes a life of crime can be more lucrative and sometimes easier than navigating the number of confusing services that are offered to people in poverty.
At the end of C.O.P.E. I ended up with over $1,400 in stolen goods, not counting the money I had pilfered in half baked deals with vulnerable families. Meanwhile, there were families that didn’t have $300 to buy back their stolen identity cards, or make bail.
Society is quick to chastise and turn their back on people in poverty who take part in illegal activity or have been convicted of a felony, but don’t consider the circumstances that lead them there. Few stop to consider that the person may not be the problem – the system is.