DUBUQUE, IA –In a small city like Dubuque that is thriving with its economic development, safe schools, and downtown revitalization, poverty can be hard to see. But Amanda Hohmann, the special projects coordinator for Operation: New View says, “I think if we really broke it down, people would be surprised at how many families or households actually are in poverty.
Shantae Richard used to be one of those in poverty when she moved to Dubuque two years ago to start a new life. She says, “It’s frustrating when you want to do better for yourself and you keep having these barriers in front of you that you can’t control.”
With no job, no support, and no place to call home, Shantae found herself living below the poverty line. “It was very uncomfortable and very frustrating.” But Shantae is not alone. According to a 2012 study by Sustainable Dubuque, nearly 12 percent of the Dubuque population lives in poverty—that’s more than six thousand people.
Those living in poverty face judgment from others that can be difficult to overcome and Shantae was no exception. “I experienced a lot of people assuming that I was negative and violent and lazy just because I was in the poverty class. They just thought I sat around and did nothing.”
This is the misconception that Operation: New View and the City of Dubuque’s Circles Initiative are trying to change through regular poverty simulations. Amanda says the goal of the simulation is to “open your eyes to what is really going on out there.”
Each person was given a new identity, a family situation, and a low-income budget to handle daily tasks and deal with the difficult situations that come with a life of poverty. Responsibilities ranged from getting groceries, taking their children to school or the babysitter, pawning off items to pay the bills, paying the rent or mortgage, and trying to get their children out of juvenile detention.
Once the simulation was completed, participants reflected on their experiences and shared their frustration, fear, and new understanding of what life is below the poverty line. And that, according to organizers, is the goal: to educate and shed light on the struggles that many face.
Shantae, who is a Circles Leader through the City of Dubuque’s Circles Initiative, volunteered at the event and believes that the simulation is changing the stigmas that surround poverty. “When people sit down and get to experience it firsthand, I believe then and only then will we have a change in how we view other people in different classes.”