Poverty Simulations

What is a Poverty Simulation?

A Poverty Simulation is a facilitated two-hour immersive experience designed to create awareness among participants of life at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Participants are assigned to “families” who do their best to survive week-to-week over a simulated one-month period. The simulation presents participants with real-life scenarios and challenges faced by people living in poverty.  The exercise is immediately followed by a group debrief, during which participants reflect on the experience, discuss insights, and consider next steps.

Participants often tell us they will never forget the overwhelming stress and hopelessness they felt as they walked in the shoes of someone facing poverty.

Since 2008, Crisis Assistance Ministry has been the local lead facilitator of Poverty Simulations, using a nationally-recognized curriculum created by the  Missouri Community Action Network. In the last four years alone, nearly 7,000 local citizens, including community leaders, business professionals, and members of faith communities, have experienced a simulation sponsored by our agency.  They often leave shaken by the role play, telling us they will never forget the overwhelming stress and hopelessness they felt as they walked in the shoes of someone facing poverty.

The ultimate goal of the Poverty Simulation is to transform these insights into action.  Executives have changed policies at their place of work and teachers have pledged to change how they treat children at school as a result of their participation.

Participant Testimonials

"Finding out I was a 9-year-old who had adult responsibilities was sobering and impactful."

"It's an eye-opener to the struggles and day-to-day challenges faced by people living in poverty."

"The whole thing was done so well. It was moving, emotional, accurate and so educational."

"The physicality of the event made it better than the typical table-top exercise. We felt real emotions trying to make our lives work."

"It showed that anyone can end up in a situation of poverty. You never know what life will throw at you and this exercise did a great job of showing that."

"The people in my group were all diverse and it allowed me to see that economic status and life situations level the playing field. We are certainly more alike than different."

"It was chaotic, which seems to be a real-life feeling for people who are in this situation."

"It really showed how one bad event snowballs for families that are struggling. It was very emotional."

"Going through this experience helped me to physically experience the panic, confusion, and dejectedness of tough, unwinnable choices… this goes a long way towards building a sense of empathy vs. sympathy."


Poverty Simulation F.A.Q.

Poverty: The Newest “Dirty” Word

Poverty isn’t a permanent place that someone lives in; in fact, most people flow in and out of living in poverty throughout their lives. Living paycheck to paycheck is relatively normal today. Therefore, missing a paycheck due to sickness or another issue could cause a surge in the direction of poverty and hinder the ability to pay rent on time or buy groceries for your family.

Read More

Energy: The Overlooked Aspect of Affordable Housing

As the debate about how to fix Charlotte’s affordable housing shortage rages on, it’s important to remember that skyrocketing rents are not the only factor. “Affordable housing” means a household spends no more than 30% of its income on rent and utilities. It’s that second part – the cost of utilities – that often gets left out of the conversation.

Read More

“Don’t Feel Sorry for Me”

A recent discussion and training session brought together college-aged interns with community advocates who have experienced life on the bottom rung of the economic ladder in Charlotte. The wide-ranging conversation allowed participants to put themselves in the shoes of the people they will serve and to think a bit differently about the lives of people in poverty.

Read More

Serving a Traumatized Community

Trauma-informed care is increasingly recognized as a preferred approach in medical and behavioral health settings. Crisis Assistance Ministry staffer Rochelle McCrimmon shares its application in the daily work of serving neighbors in financial crisis.

Read More

How Struggling on the Economic Margins Affects Mental Health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly one in five adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition each year. For families living below the federal poverty line, mental illness is even more prevalent and pernicious.

Read More

Let’s Talk About Living Wages in the Queen City

There’s been a flurry of minimum-wage-raising activity in Charlotte recently, which is certainly good news for the low-wage workers whose paychecks are increasing. But, is $15 an hour really a living wage?

Read More

Welcome Our Newest Graduates

On May 4, Crisis Assistance Ministry joyfully celebrated the graduations of a new class of Customer Advocates. New graduate Kimberly reflected on her journey from customer to empowered advocate saying: “I have found my voice and will utilize it to the best of my ability to help families like mine understand that there is hope, that life happens to everyone, and that we must not give up but continue to move forward.”

Read More

Special Funding Released to Help Families Behind on Rent and Utility Bills

For a limited time, special funding is available for Mecklenburg County households needing assistance paying their rent and utility bills. While county residents can always seek emergency financial assistance at Crisis Assistance Ministry, now through June 30, additional funds are available to assist families in need.

Read More

Transforming a Skeptic

I’m skeptical when I hear people talk about life-altering, perspective-shifting experiences. So, when I came home to tell my roommate that I had just experienced one of the most powerful and transformative two hours of my life, I recognized the incredulous face looking back at me.

Read More

Reflections on Legacy of Lynching and Racial Justice in America

As a new exhibit opens at the Levine Museum of the New South, entitled Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America, participants from the recent trip to Montgomery, Alabama, reflect on what they learned about the past, present, and future of racial justice in America, including right here in Mecklenburg County.

Read More


As important as financial stability is, research shows that where we live may be just as critical to overall health. Last month, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released the “2019 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report”, which examines how location and health intersect.

Read More

VITA Celebrates 50 Years of Tax Preparation Assistance

For half a century, the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program has offered free tax preparation assistance to elderly, disabled, and low- and moderate-income households.

Read More

You are invited to stay home and help plant seeds for Charlotte's future.

Make a gift and make a difference today.

Donate Now