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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Experiencing poverty

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Linda Nunley of the St. Vincent S.T.A.R. program looks on as Mitch Chalos, director of employment training services, fills out an unemployment form. Chalos said that he visited the event "just to understand."

While some Clay County residents feel the effect of poverty on their lives every day, more affluent community members got to simulate that experience Wednesday.

An event known as The Poverty Experience rolled through town yesterday afternoon, giving the Clay County Health Initiative Coalition a chance to see what "life like that is like," according to Indianapolis St. Vincent Hospital representative Maggie Charnoski.

"The program came about years and years ago," Charnoski said, "some time in the '70s, I believe. It was designed to give people a greater understanding of the restrictions placed on a person living in poverty."

The CCHIC decided in a recent meeting that to help Clay County's poverty problem, they needed to better understand it, and they contacted St. Vincent about the program to help them with this, according to CCHIC member and event coordinator Jerry Laue.

"We have representatives from the city and county government, the school corporation, LEEAP, Western Indiana Economic Development, First Step, Step Ahead, all kinds of places," Laue said. "This is an actual learning in process."

A mix of community members and volunteers pitched in to make the program possible, playing the role of bankers, welfare office workers, social workers, and others.

One person that didn't have to act too hard was City Police Chief Terry Harrison, who came to be a police officer for the event.

"I'm kind of overworked here," Harrison said with a laugh. "I arrest people, deal with the welfare department, child department, and so on. I'm just trying to figure out how these people keep getting out of jail."

The "jail" Harrison referred to was a corner of the Traditions hall where "offenders" were kept for various crimes.

Those not playing the role of an official became poverty-stricken individuals. They were given a handful of items such as "transportation passes," which they used to go from booth to booth, and told to use their wits to survive.

"It's amazing what some people had to go through just to get around," CCHIC member Rich Johansen said after the event. "They had to lie, cheat, and everything else just to get by. A lot of people were really taken aback by how some people have to live."

The event, which had a lunch after an afternoon of poverty, was a success. Laue said that events like these really help get to the heart of the matter.

"If we're going to help, we need to understand," he said.

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