According to the United States Census Bureau, there were 46.5 million Americans living in poverty in 2012, and the number has only increased since. On the evening of Wednesday, April 2, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), New York State’s largest student-directed research and advocacy organization, hosted “Poverty: It’s Not a Game” to call attention the issue.
Samantha Spoto, a fourth-year creative writing and sociology double major, and a member of NYPIRG’s hunger and homeless committee, helped to coordinate the event and said the goal of the program was to educate the public on the increasing poverty issue in the United States.
“Each year, more than three million people experience homelessness, and each night, over 38,000 homeless individuals sleep in the New York City shelter system. As long as poverty exists, groups like NYPIRG must work to facilitate discussion on the issue,” Spoto said. “Educating the general public on poverty is the first step in the fight to reduce the steady influx of individuals thrust into homelessness.”
The interactive event had the attendees metaphorically incorporated into the system. Attendees received criteria distinguishing them by class, housing, education, diet, access to healthcare and so on. The breakdown of how many people received what social class status — two upper-class, several middle class, lower-middle and below the poverty line and three people homelessness — was meant to coincide roughly with the actual percentages of population based on class.
Spoto gave the group different prompts and the attendees, who were lined up along the room, took steps either forwards or backwards accordingly.
For example, Spoto instructed the audience to “take two steps forward if you received a college degree, take one step backwards if you received a college degree but need to pay back student loans, take two steps back if you received a high school degree.”
The main goal of this activity was to show how certain class-based factors channel certain people into poverty while other factors help to enable people to lead successful lives.
In the end, the people who had been given “upper-class” status stood at the front of the room, while those who had been given the simulated “homeless” status remained at the back. This “segregated” the room based on perceived class.
A discussion period followed the event and students talked about the aspects of the activity they learned from and how it made them feel when they had to either take a step forwards, or back.
“As some students expressed, it gave them a reality check, that maybe we should pay more attention to. We have such a stigma of homeless people and fail to realize that it could be us in that position. It’s so much easier to fall back in social classes, then it is to get up,” third-year Yvette Ramirez, who also helped to coordinate the event, said.
“I felt the event accomplished its goal of educating the public on the factors that contribute to poverty; it dispelled common stereotypes of homelessness,” Spoto said.
NYPIRG strives to educate the general public on hunger and homelessness as well as offers direct assistance to those in need. If students are passionate and seeking involvement in local volunteer projects that aid those in need, NYPIRG’s hunger and homeless committee meets every Wednesday at 2 p.m. in SUB 426.