The United States of America has a very real and very poignant problem across the nation. That issue is poverty. Despite the proclaimed “War on Poverty” in 1964, destitution still heavily looms. In fact, 39.7 million people were reported to be living in poverty as of 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Robert Caldwell, founder of AnswerPoverty.org, hopes to make effective changes within our communities. AnswerPoverty.org is a nonprofit organization working to interrupt the cycle of generational poverty. He argues, a main concern for persons choosing to aid in the fight against poverty and/or those with opposing views is that they could not possibly relate.
“The problem is that most of those folks don’t have a clue about a life lived in poverty. … As a result, most of the programs and services that we’ve developed over the years really don’t have a chance of being successful. And, in fact, a lot of them actually perpetuate the problem.”
Misconceptions about people’s circumstances, experiences and capabilities hinder assistance, Caldwell further explained.
In an effort to help people across the spectrum, from policy-makers and social workers to healthcare providers and teachers better understand that reality, AnswerPoverty.org offers multiple training resources.
One of those resources is the Cost Of Poverty Experience or COPE, developed by Think Tank, Inc. The informative training simulates one full month “in the life of” a low-income individual or family. During the simulation, participants are assigned different circumstances based on experiences of real-life families. Participants are put to the test with four 15-minute “weeks,” in which, they must complete everyday tasks. These tasks include accessing transportation, getting to work, childcare and more.
Norwood “Buzz” Thomas, a COPE-contracted trainer, said participants quickly become frantic. “They start to be visited with the tyranny of time,” he said.
Thomas recalled a doctor who went through the simulation. “After the first 15-minute period, he had stood in line for a bus pass and didn’t get it,” Thomas said. “So he couldn’t go to work. So he lost his job. He threw up his hands and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ And someone pointed out to him, ‘You can do this for 15 minutes. Your patients do this every day.’”
“There’s the perception that poor people are helpless,” Thomas continued. “But it takes an enormous amount of intelligence and resourcefulness just to get through the day.”
Robert Caldwell hopes participants will be motivated to make changes in their approach to helping people in poverty. He would also like to see a change in the often short-sighted approach to tackling poverty. He pointed out time-restrictive programs, like parenting classes that, while helpful, do not provide lasting solutions.
Lasting solutions begin with an in-depth understanding of the magnitude of the problem, Caldwell says.
“Anybody who was born into generational poverty today did not choose that,” he said. “You were born in a set of circumstances you had no control over. And so was your mom. And so was your grandmother. … They were forced to figure out how to survive in those circumstances. And most folks do the best they can.”
The next COPE event will take place at the Northern Lights Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library from 9:30 am-1:30 pm.