The Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS)* is a unique tool that can be used to educate everyone, from policy makers to local community leaders, about the typical day to day strategies of a low-income family trying to survive, day to day, with a shortage of money and an abundance of stress. It is a simulation, not a game.  The object is to sensitize participants to the hardships faced by real people. In post-experience surveys, over 85% of participants reported an above average or high level of increased knowledge about the financial pressures faced by low-income families in meeting basic needs.

In the simulation, 40 to 88 participants assume the roles of up to 25 different families facing poverty.  Some families are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the "breadwinner," some are homeless, and others are recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly AFDC), either with or without additional earned income.  Still others are senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement or grandparents raising their grandchildren.  The task of the "families" is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute "weeks."

The simulation is conducted in a large room with the "families" seated in groups in the center.  Around the perimeter are tables representing community resources and services for the families.  These services include a bank, super center, Community Action Agency, employer, utility company, pawn broker, grocery, social service agency, faith based agency, payday/title loan facility, mortgage company, homeless shelter, school, and child care center.

Volunteers (“Resource Workers”), preferably persons who have faced or are facing poverty, are recruited to staff the resource tables.  Volunteers are also recruited to assume the roles of police officer and an "illegal activities" person. Before the simulation begins, Resource Workers will have an orientation of 45-60 minutes of training and reviewing materials.

The experience lasts approximately two hours.  It includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period at the end of the simulation, in which participants and volunteer staffers share their feelings and experiences and talk about what they have learned about the lives of people in poverty. 

What is needed for a Poverty Simulation:

A large room (3,000 square feet)

Approximately 125-175 chairs and 12 tables (depending on your group size)

Approximately two (2) hours to set-up for the simulation

15-20 Resource Volunteers to be at the resource tables

40 – 88 participants (minimum number recommend is no less than 40 participants)

*CAPS is a copyrighted tool made available by the Missouri Association for Community Action to organizations that want to promote a greater understanding of poverty.

Click here to view a Poverty Simulation brochure.

Information Request:
Linda Grier, Data/Office Coordinator
Please call 785-742-2222, ext. 135

Poverty Simulation Links:

Spent - Urban Ministries of Durham online game about surviving poverty.