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The Cost of Poverty Experience

Posted on Monday, February 26, 2018 at 1:06 pm

What’s it like to live in poverty?

About one in four Osceola County residents knows all too well.

For those who don’t, an upcoming event at the Kissimmee Civic Center might shed some light.

The Cost of Poverty Experience, or COPE, is an interactive simulation that offers a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of low-income individuals and families.

Roughly 46 million Americans are affected by poverty. COPE, however, goes beyond the statistics to reach participants who have never experienced what it’s like to struggle.

The poverty threshold for a single parent with two minor children is an annual total income just over $25,000 a year. For a single adult under age 65, it’s just over $12,000, according to federal poverty guidelines. Many who fit this category call local motels home, others live with friends and family. 
A study of homeless families living in motels along Osceola County’s tourism corridor, for instance, found 64 percent of the parents were working, mainly at minimum-wage jobs in the hospitality industry. Some were working two jobs — but never earning enough to afford the rental and utility deposits they needed to move to apartments.

The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness is sponsoring the event, which aims to show not just the struggles of those living in poverty but also how much it costs the community.

An analysis showed Central Florida counties spend an average of $31,000 every year on every chronically homeless individual, many of whom cycle in and out of jail, emergency rooms and inpatient hospitalizations. Many also are disabled or have chronic health problems.
 The commission launched a new initiative this summer that pairs housing for homeless families with help in developing career paths that lead to financial independence. The program is a collaboration of nonprofit, government, business and faith organizations. County Commissioner Peggy Choudry is leading an effort to bring a homeless shelter to the county. Currently, the only temporary shelter in Osceola is for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Polk, Orange and Seminole counties have emergency shelters for families and individuals, which is where Osceola nonprofits and churches regularly refer people. 
The influx of Puerto Ricans to Central Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and the ongoing affordable housing shortage are exacerbating the problem.
The COPE event will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on March 7. Tickets to the event are free. Contact the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness for more information and tickets at 321-710-4663.