Poverty is too real in Pagosa

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    An article in this week’s SUN announces a “poverty simulation” scheduled for Friday, March 15, and solicits participants and facilitators.

    According to Pastor Don Ford of Community United Methodist Church, the simulation is the second to be held here. As many as 50 people experienced the virtual realities of poverty at the initial simulation several months ago.

    The poverty simulation is designed to help participants better understand the impact of poverty — here and elsewhere. Participants at the first simulation included staff members from local human service agencies, town and county employees and a number of community leaders.

    The program emphasizes the daily realities for those who live in poverty, with the aim of sending participants back to the community with increased awareness and a commitment to deal with a pressing situation in Pagosa Country.

    In the simulation, participants play the roles of members of low-income families. Some play assistance recipients, some are disabled and others enact the roles of senior citizens on Social Security. They are given the task of providing the basics of life during four, virtual weeks. They interact with human services agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers and others.

    They learn about the struggle that too many of their neighbors endure, in a too-real world.

    Ford has long been one of the community’s champions for those whose lives are burdened by the stresses of poverty — Pagosans who struggle to put food on the table, pay the rent and medical bills, and face legal difficulties. He, with others in local government agencies, faith-based organizations and local charitable groups, work hard to assist people in need, without the bias that often colors discourse about neighbors who live under the poverty line. We hear far too much arrogant talk about “takers” and “parasites” from savants who fail to empathize with those who battle poverty on a daily basis. They do nothing to deal with the problem.

    According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the official federal poverty line in 2012 was an annual income of up to $23,050 for a family of four. The 2010 Census Bureau report stated that 8.5 percent of the population of Archuleta County, 1,032 people, were living in poverty. Other sources indicate that rate could be as high as 12.5 percent. The Colorado Children’s Campaign released a statistic showing that 53.5 percent of Archuleta County’s children qualified for free or reduced priced lunches in 2012, with 4.8 percent of children in the county receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families in 2010. In 2010, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food and nutrition program served 260 local women, and children up to age 5, who were at nutritional risk. In May of 2012, 527 households in the county accepted food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In 2010, the number of county residents ages 5-17 living in families in poverty was 21.8 percent, the highest percentage for that group since 1989. Each of these numbers is an indicator of how many people are in need here.

    Thankfully, there are Pagosans who understand that poverty and its stresses can affect just about anyone — that most people trying to deal with this problem work or are eager to work. For those who sit in their easy chairs and spout nonsense about “takers” a dose of simulation might be good medicine for their disease.

    Poverty and the demands of a paycheck-to-paycheck life are no simulation for a great many Pagosans and efforts like Ford’s can provide more of the area’s privileged residents an understanding of a situation that must be remedied.

    Karl Isberg