The Poverty Simulation

Why a Simulation?

Poverty is a reality for many individuals and families. But unless you've experienced poverty, it's difficult to truly understand. The Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS) bridges that gap from misconception to understanding. CAPS is an interactive immersion experience. It sensitizes community participants to the realities of poverty.

CAPS is not a game. It is based on real Community Action clients and their lives. CAPS exists to:  

Promote Poverty Awareness

During the simulation, role-play a month in poverty and experience low-income families' lives.

Increase Understanding

After the simulation, you will unpack your learning and brainstorm community change.

Inspire Local Change

Together, you can be a voice to end poverty in your family, friends and community.

 This simulation gave me a whole new perspective, a greater appreciation for the choices she has made AND an increased respect for my little sister- and for those just like her.

- Poverty Simulation participant with a sister in poverty

What happens during a Simulation? 

The Experience

Aber AnnMeet Ann Aber. Like many people in poverty, Ann faces the daily struggle to keep a roof over her head and her children fed. Ann is just one person in the up to 26 families part of the Poverty Simulation. 

During the Poverty Simulation, you will take on the identity of someone like Ann. You will work together with your family to live a month in poverty. 

Your Simulated "community" is a large room. You and your neighbors' "homes" are chairs in the center. The services you need like banks, schools and grocery stores are tables that line the perimeter of the room. 


Like real life, you need transportation to work or school. You need food on the table. You might struggle with a chronic illness. Throughout the month you will face the daily stresses and challenges a person in poverty faces. 

Again, this simulation is not a game. It is is based on the stories of real life Community Action clients. 

To learn more about the Simulation setup and debrief, please view the FAQ section below. 


Who Does Poverty Simulations?

CAPS is a unique tool used by over 1,000 different organizations worldwide. Here is a sampling of organizations who use the tool:

Nonprofit Organizations

The Poverty Simulation has motivated and inspired many of our participants to take action in our state...This has been one of the best tools we have found to begin the conversation and take action. – MaryLou Beaver, Every Child Matters

Read More Nonprofit Testimonials >>


As we incorporated this training into our Induction Seminars we provided to our new teachers, it became clear that it was a complete eye-opener for many of them! – Dr. Donna Smith, Beaufort County School District

Read More Education Testimonials >>

Community Action

We love the poverty simulation because it offers a truly meaningful, insightful experiential learning opportunity for the participants...It's one of our most powerful tools for reframing issues of poverty. – Afron January, Community Action Partnership of Utah

Read More Community Action Testimonials >>

About the Simulation FAQ

If you are a CAPS Kit Owner, and have further questions, please check out the Kit Owner FAQ here

What happens during a simulation (expanded)?
The Setup
+ The Simulation takes place in a large room with "families" seated in the middle.
+ Tables representing community resources and services for families line the perimeter of the room.
+ Volunteers, preferably persons who have faced or are facing poverty, are recruited to staff the resource tables.

The Experience
+ The Simulation is a 2-4 hour experience.
+ Participants assume the identity of up to 26 different families facing poverty.
+ Participants role-play a month in poverty, trying to maintain their basic needs.

The Debrief
+ Participants are invited to discuss their experiences and what they learned.
+ Participants are challenged to share their experience with family, friends and their community.
What comes with the kit?
Each CAPS kit is all-inclusive and reusable. It comes in a large, convenient storage container on wheels and is yours to keep and use as many times as you want. Each kit contains:
• DIRECTOR'S MANUAL: Instructions on how to run a simulation, sample invitation letter and news release, facts about poverty, suggestion about what people can do to impact policy.
• RESOURCE PACKETS: Instructions and accessories for each community resource, including social services office, pawn shop, school, bank, police station, grocery store, and nine other stations. Accessories include calculators, money boxes, play money, homework, Social Security cards, name badges, forms.
• FAMILY PACKETS: There are 26 family packets, each with a family scenario and accessories, including play money, appliance cards and transportation passes.
• COMPACT DISC: Contains PDF files of all materials so lost items can be reprinted.
I am looking at hosting a simulation. What kind of space is required?
Using the sample floor plan in this kit as a reference, arrange for a large room that can accommodate the necessary number of tables and chairs. Allow enough room for participants to walk around during the simulation. We suggest at least a 3,000 square foot room for a full simulation. Hotel ball rooms, community center activity rooms, school gymnasiums, and church activity centers work really well!
Do you train people to use the kit?
Yes, we offer twice a year Facilitators training in Missouri. Typically in the fall in St. Louis and the spring in Kansas City. Check the "Training" link in the menu for upcoming training dates. We also offer the training at your worksite for groups of 15 or larger. If you would like to learn more about this option, please contact
What is the history of the kit?
The Community Action Poverty Simulation© was developed to help raise awareness about different aspects of poverty that can lead to discussion about the potential for change in local communities. The poverty simulations have a long history beginning in the 1970s by Reform Organization of Welfare (or ROWEL). They were made up of members of the religious community in St. Louis to advocate for the poor by working for legislative and administrative changes in the welfare system. The “welfare simulation” was designed to demonstrate the difficulty of living on an extremely narrow welfare-based budget.
MACA purchased the copyright back in 2002 from ROWEL and revised the kit to reflect the families that have been served by community action. It was revised again in 2007 with the addition of a homeless shelter and inter-faith services and then once more in 2012 with the addition of the community health center.

How to Purchase 

Please click the button below and follow the secure online purchase process. You will be redirected to Missouri Community Action Network's (formerly Missouri Association for Community Action) secure online store. Accepted payment includes credit card, purchase order or check.