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Participants in poverty simulation feel chaos, desperation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Sue Metzo (center), president of the Medina Area Association of Churches, joins 60 others in a poverty simulation Friday through Community Action of Orleans & Genesee. The “luck of the draw” gave participants a mix of good and bad surprises. Metzo’s family would be evicted in the simulation.

BATAVIA – Sue Metzo on Friday had a chance to role play as a single mother, deserted by the father of her two children. Metzo, playing a 34-year-old high school dropout named Emily Epperman, had to figure out how to keep her household going with very limited funds.

It proved a heart-pounding experience, running from appointment to appointment, trying to reverse shut-off and eviction notices.

In doing that, and enduring the long lines for assistance, Metzo was given a warning she hadn’t provided food for her family.

A participant in the poverty simulation waits in line at the utility company to discuss a shut-off notice. Freddie K. Stewart, the training and development manager for Head Start, portrays the utility company worker. Stewart said the power would be turned back on in 72 hours. Someone would need to be home that day, but Stewart couldn’t say when the utility worker would be there, whether in the morning or afternoon.

Metzo (Epperman) sold several of the assets in the house, including the microwave, for some cash while waiting for benefits to kick in.

“I’m feeling very frantic,” said Metzo, who is president of the Medina Area Association of Churches.

She joined 60 other participants in a poverty simulation at the United Methodist Church in Batavia. The event was organized by Community Action or Orleans & Genesee and the NYS Community Action Association.

With every stop in the simulation – from going to the grocery store, pawn shop, utility company and bank – participants had to use transportation passes. Their limited cash, already a challenge to stretch out for a month, could be depleted with an unexpected bill for broken refrigerator, a teen-age child needing to go to the doctor or to get bailed out of jail.

Mary Zangerle, role playing as a 17-year-old high school dropout, is in line to pay a bill.

Sylvia Riviere, another member of the MAAC church group in Medina, portrayed Metzo’s 14-year-old daughter. Riviere used bus passes applying for jobs, but couldn’t get one.

Mary Zangerle, a retired library director in Medina, was assigned the role of a 17-year-old boy who recently dropped out of school and got a girl pregnant. She tried to help Metzo brainstorm for ways to money their money last and to coordinate trips so they didn’t run out of bus passes.

When the Epperman family was given an eviction notice, they were able to keep their apartment as long as they paid a $50 late fee.

Participants went through the simulation for four weeks, which included one week of school vacation. The adults in the group had to figure out how to provide child care for kids 12 and under for that week.

Karla Digirolamo, CEO of the NYS Community Action Association, tries to destroy myths about poverty, urging more compassion from the community.

Digirolamo leads the poverty simulation on Friday for community members in Orleans and Genesee counties. The state-wide association has been doing a poverty tour throughout the state this year, leading the simulations so local officials “can confront the myths about poverty.”

She wants to see more compassion from government officials and community members towards people struggling in poverty.

In Orleans County, 13.8 percent of residents live in poverty, including 19.7 percent of children under 18. For households headed by a woman, the poverty rate jumps to 38.6 percent in Orleans County.

Some of the participants in the simulation said they considered breaking the law, either through selling themselves or drugs, for extra money to get through the month and keep their utilities on and children fed.

The family members in the poverty simulation were often scrambling, trying to get to different appointments and find ways to boost their income.

“Whether you’re a kid or parent or grandparent, everyone feels the stress of being able to stay in your home,” said Kim McMann, training coordinator for the NYS Community Action Association

People in poverty often confront unexpected bills that can deplete their cash, making them unable to pay other bills. That can result in late fees and a feeling of desperation.

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