Life on the Edge

I am a firm believer in individual personal responsibility. When welfare assistance is needed, my preference is for private sector organizations such as the Salvation Army, Idaho Foodbank, and religious organizations, to provide necessary social services whenever possible.

When help is needed, I still believe the best kind is a hand up rather than a hand out. Anyone who is able-bodied and receiving government assistance should be required to give back to the community.

That said, let me share an experience I had last Friday. I participated in the United Way’s first “Life on the Edge” simulation. No, this wasn’t a computer game. In fact, it wasn’t a game at all.

Members of the community had the opportunity to come together to experience, however briefly, what life can be like for people who are living in poverty.

Participants were assigned a new identity. I was a 57-year-old disabled grandmother, living with my 36-year-old daughter, her 36-year-old husband, and their 15-year-old daughter. Each of the four weeks of the simulation was compressed into 13 minutes.

During the compressed 13-minute weeks, we had to try to take care of a week’s worth of business such as buying food and making payments on monthly bills for utilities, a mortgage, clothes, medication and miscellaneous items.

People with a job were required to spend eight of the 13 minutes in a simulated week at work. They could not assist the family with other necessary actions, like paying bills.

Social services stations including a police department, a school, a homeless shelter, the Department of Health and Welfare and the Community Action Agency were located at tables around the room, but it was often necessary to stand in line in order to receive services, pay a bill, buy food, or cash a paycheck at the bank.

In my “family,” when the “son-in-law’s” pay was cut unexpectedly the second week, our lives became very stressful as we tried to make ends meet without the needed money. When my “daughter” was also robbed, things fell apart quickly.

Although in the simulation, my family did not lose its house, we did fail to pay all of our outstanding bills by the end of the month.

At the end of this exercise, participants compared experiences. Although I have some background with these issues, I still found the process to be educational, from the perspective of truly understanding what life can be like for people who are living in poverty.

For more information about “Life on the Edge”, United Way, or volunteer opportunities in the community, please contact Gaye Bennett at 336-1070 X123 or or Kathy Wold at 336-1070 X105 or .

If you are in need of assistance, call the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1 for a list of resources, including non-governmental agencies that operate on a sliding scale and no-fee basis.

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