OSWEGO, NY – Mayor William Barlow Jr., is spearheading an effort, in collaboration with the Community Development Office and others, to improve the opportunity for everyone to achieve self-sufficiency and to become financially independent.
They are seeking council approval to provide a poverty awareness training through an established program provided by Visions For Change for $1,500 as the first step in raising awareness towards the $25 million Anti-Poverty Program proposed by Governor Cuomo, Community Development Director Justin Rudgick explained Monday night.
Oswego is one of the identified communities to receive $500,000 to improve the quality, efficiency and reach of services that address poverty.
He is working with VFC as well as the county’s Poverty Reduction Task Force.
The Poverty Awareness Training Poverty Simulation will provide a snapshot of what poverty looks like in America – based on the stories and experiences of people and families that VFC has worked with.
During the simulation, participants will take on the role of an individual living in poverty. They will pay their monthly bills, get their kids to school (or daycare), keep all their appointments and go to work every day (or look for a job). Participants what it feels like to think in the moment and make decisions based on survival, Rudgick noted.
Most people walk away from the simulation “feeling frustrated, confused, disbelieving or in shock,” he added.
In order for the city to come up with a program that really addresses poverty, he pointed out, “We first need to understand what poverty is.”
Many people in the community have never lived in poverty and don’t truly understand what it is like to live moment to moment, he added.
This program will help clarify what the issues are and how people can empathize and sympathize that truly live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet, he said.
The simulation is geared toward elected officials and community leaders. It’s open to council members, department heads, directors of OCO, the United Way and others, Rudgick said.
“That way, (decision makers) can understand how challenging it is, how frustrating it is,” Rudgick told the councilors.
The second part of the initiative would involve things like job searches, job retention and job coaching, he said.
“A lot is spent helping individuals living in poverty get a job. But we fall short of actually helping them retaining a job,” he explained.
The simulation is really an eye-opener, he said.
“We can’t make a decision to change people’s lives until we truly understand the challenges that they face,” he said.
OCO has done poverty simulations previously. But, they have no immediate plans to engage in the current simulation, the Community Development Director said.
Oswego is being aggressive in addressing poverty in the Port City, he said.
The city is bottom heavy in poverty and will remain there “until we understand how we can tip the scale,” he added.
The Walk in My Shoes training takes 3-4 hours, after which there would be a debrief with the group. The program’s designed for up to 120 participants.
Funding would come from the Community Development Office’s budget line, Rudgick said.
Currently, those needing assistance visit many different places seeking help; Department of Social Services, Community Development Office, Salvation Army, United Way and others.
“They’re going around and around. There has to be a way to streamline this process,” Rudgick said.
The committee sent the proposal to the full council for consideration.