Students learn what it’s like to live under the poverty line

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Connie Lee / Daily Titan
Connie Lee / Daily Titan

Cal State Fullerton’s School of Nursing hosted its first Poverty Simulation in the Titan Student Union Saturday to help students understand the day-to-day realities of impoverished living.

The simulation aimed to help nursing students enrolled in a Community Health Nursing course gain a better understanding of the types of patients they will encounter throughout their career.

That the class is divided into two parts: a laboratory course, followed by field training where students are split up into different groups, nursing student Mayra Hernandez, said She added that the groups partner with county governments to assess family situations and identify which types of assistance they need.
“This is not a game. This is a simulation,” said Maria Matza, a Community Health Resource faculty member, to a pavilion filled with nursing students.

The students were sectioned into groups. Each group formed a “family” and each family lived out a “month” in poverty. Each situation included a limited or fixed income and a family predicament; difficulties within each family varied. The issues included expulsion, teen pregnancy, dropping out of high school, gang affiliations and imprisoned family members.

The month was broken into four “weeks.” Each “week” lasted 15 minutes followed by a five-minute weekend to recoup from the decisions made. Within this time, students were expected to get their kids to school, go to work and survive.
Booths were set up with various resources students could choose to utilize. Some charged a fee. Resources included a jail, a juvenile detention center and a general employer.

Other resources encompassed a homeless shelter, a public school, a pawn shop, child and health care services and a payday advance center. The only person not charging to be seen or give advice was Matza.

What began as a game to the students quickly became a serious and frustrating alternate reality. In the first week, students walked at a normal pace to their locations; they were in no particular rush.

By the second week, a herd of people ran to the payday advance center. The payday advance line was filled with people nearly the entire remainder of the month.

Faculty saw students begin trying to bargain with shop owners. Some struck deals to pay a portion of their debts and set up a payment plan.
Others became so concerned for their children and their activities that they neglected their jobs. Many people were unable to pay for their medications; only one family picked up their entire prescription list, while a mother-and-child pair only paid for select medications.

Rebecca Kolb, a Community Health Nursing professor, portrayed a thief and drug dealer. She walked up to family members in need and offered them $50 to deliver sugar packets for her. The sugar packets represented various illegal drugs.

“It was really interesting to see how desperate they got,” Kolb said. “They start off not wanting to deliver the drugs, then a few weeks later they come to me and ask to make $50.”

Student Amanda Gabriel, under the name “Dan Duntley,” went up to Matza and asked if she would be able to sneak “crystal meth” into the jail and make a profit because she was unable to sell it.

Most of the participating students said the simulation gave them an insight into poverty that they never had before.
The faculty said that the simulation is something that should be done every semester and that CSUF will help other universities implement their own poverty simulations.

“Poverty is not a game for over 49 million people living in the United States,” Matza said.

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