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Living on the edge

by Regina Ramos-Urbano

   Regina Ramos Urbano & Anita Krushel role playing
Community volunteers Regina Ramos-Urbano and Anita Krushel
Role playing a working poor family making financial decisions
  baby Jason Granger
Our-one-year old baby boy
Jason Granger giving instructions for the simulation
Photos by Sean Ledwich

In 2015, 58,050 Winnipeggers received emergency food assistance from Winnipeg Harvest every month. One in three families using Winnipeg Harvest have employment income. At any given night, 1,400 people experience homelessness in Winnipeg.

I have to ask myself, how can this be happening here; the place my parents brought us for a better life? And this happens not just in Winnipeg, but other communities across Canada. What can I do?

A gymnasium full of fellow Winnipeggers and I accepted the invitation of United Way for “a chance to broaden (my) understanding of the challenges faced by people who live on a low income.”

“Poverty is not a game.” Facilitator Jason Granger reminded us of this repeatedly as we embarked on an eye-opening simulation that allowed participants to experience what it might be like to live on the edge of poverty.

As I role-played being a 25-year-old male with a 19-year-old girlfriend and one year old baby, I learned what it was like to be “working poor.” I felt lucky to have a full-time job, but even so, I was homeless and had to somehow provide for my family’s needs. Stress and worry were constant companions for my little family as we found a place to live, made sure to eat, paid bills, and still have enough for transportation to get to work and to see the doctor. In the end, we survived, but only with complex planning, not eating for two weeks, and ultimately, through the kindness of strangers and the assistance of community agencies.

The Living on the Edge simulation provided me with “heart knowledge” that facts and figures can’t provide. It gave me a small glimpse of what it’s like to be in poverty. I felt the worry and stress of not having transportation; I felt the boredom and anxiety of waiting in line to resolve a problem and avoid a crisis; and I felt resigned to limited options. And I am grateful for the experience.

So what do I do with what I know now? What can we as a community do together? I don’t know – yet. But I know that it was the unexpected kindness from individuals and the assistance of community that helped my simulated family to survive. I will do all that I can.

For more information on the Living on the Edge simulation and to learn more about the issues surrounding poverty, contact Mariah Baldwin at the United Way of Winnipeg.