In the shoes of a family facing poverty

A Northern Michigan organization is building awareness about the struggles of living in poverty.

The Char-Em Poverty Reduction Initiative hosted a "Survive a Month in Poverty" simulation workshop today.

The Charlevoix Emmet County United Way wants to bring more fight into the war against poverty. An hour-long simulation gave a taste into what more than 1.5 million Michiganders deal with every day.

"We want to raise public awareness for the invisible poor in this country," says Casey Adams, the Char-Em United Way Volunteer Coordinator.

The make-shift "Realville" city put 80 people in the shoes of a struggling family. Some were school children, others parents looking for a job. Every 15 minutes simulated a week, an hour simulated one month.

"I can't imagine that would be somebody's daily life, it's just not knowing," said participant Cathryn Schuil.

Schuil played the role of a 15 year-old girl who had to get a job after school to help her parents afford the mortgage. In "Realville," there was a bank, job placement services, and social services just like there is in real life. Juggling the programs wasn't easy, neither was stretching a dollar to try to get by.

"Itâ??s a struggle, Iâ??ve already pawned a lot of things, we're about to lose our house," said participant George Rader. â??Oh, our utilities just got shut off, there goes our utilities, we didn't pay our utility bill, at least we're not evicted."

And while this is just make believe, these are real-life problems 45 million Americans are facing.

In Charlevoix and Emmet Counties, about 10 percent of people face these types of issues every day. Thatâ??s why it's important for the United Way to come here and give people a taste of what it's like. They hope it's an eye-opener.

"As you can see today, life throws different obstacles at you, sometimes you can be robbed like we were, and sometimes you can't cash your check at the bank, so it's sobering," said Michigan State Representative Frank Foster, R-107th District.

"Having the opportunity to really see what it's like, even on a really small scale, is really eye-opening," said participant Carrie Ullery-Smith.

United Way hopes the lessons learned today effect change in the future.

"Invest in public infrastructure, like a better health care system, good education, these are all good factors that help reduce poverty in the area," said Adams.