A glimpse of life in poverty


Lent is a wonderful time to get our house in order, to ask more of ourselves, our communities and our relationship with God. It’s our time in the wilderness. Driven by the spirit, we follow the example of Christ – confronting those wild beasts lurking in our hearts, making room for the Kingdom in our own lives. What do we fear? What do we long for? What are those unspoken things that stymie authentic Gospel living? And what can we do about them?

As Catholic Christians we understand we should care for the poor and marginalized. But how can we truly care for those we do not understand? It’s one thing to know what we should do. It’s another to feel compelled to change our own ways of perceiving others. This is one of the many reasons why we held a poverty simulator with our college students this past week. On Feb. 23, the St. Monica-St. George Newman Center, hosted by St. Vincent DePaul, had a group of students from the University of Cincinnati undergo a poverty simulation.

Over the course of a couple of hours, students were asked to take on a new persona. They were given the basic information of someone living below the poverty line. Their objective? Try to make it through one month without being evicted from their home, going hungry, losing their children, losing their job, or going back to jail. The volunteers helping facilitate the events played various roles such as: bank clerk, case manager, landlord, doctor, pharmacist, etc. The students needed to jump from one station to the next, trying to juggle the many road blocks those in poverty often face.

It was an eye-opening experience to see the playful spirits of college students quickly devolve into frustration as they kept encountering one obstacle after another. "No. The rent must be paid in full." "You can’t bring your children here," said the lady at Jobs and Family Services, to which an exasperated student responded, "But I can’t pay for child care until I have a job!" Those are just some of the things these students learned.

"I have a lot more sympathy for what parents are going through" shared one student after the simulation. She is a nursing student and admitted that when parents leave their children at the hospital for long periods unattended, she is often frustrated with them. This simulation gave her and so many others a new lens by which to see the other.

For my part, I was that cold-hearted landlord – and boy, it wasn’t easy. It is my hope that this experience, while brief, at least gave these students something new to ponder. As they go forth on this Lenten journey, I hope they continue to change how they perceive the world around them and feel compelled to continue to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate than themselves.

(Fr. Clifford Hennings is Associate Pastor of St. Monica-St. George Parish/Newman Center in Cincinnati.)