Litigants With Diverse Needs

April 2018 - Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

On April 4, 2018, the Office for Justice Initiatives facilitated a Poverty Simulation for students enrolled in the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. The Poverty Simulation is designed to provide participants with the experience of living in poverty for one month. Each month is lived in fifteen-minute increments, during which the participants are tasked with making decisions to support and care for themselves and their families.

The students were assigned roles within family units. The family units reflected family compositions seen throughout the country. Families were comprised of married and unmarried couples with and without children, families with grandparents living in the household and single people living on their own. English and non-English speaking families were represented, as well as people who identify as LGBTQIA, and undocumented people. Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University faculty and staff volunteered to play the role of various governmental agencies, community organizations, and private companies typically found in communities.

At the beginning of the simulation each participant was provided with an identity that linked them to a household. At their “home” they had the opportunity to meet their family members and were provided with a packet that included a description of each family member, a description of the family’s situation, and a breakdown of responsibilities and bills that needed to be paid over the course of the simulated “one-month.” The students collaborated with one another and often found themselves making the same difficult choices that people living in poverty make every day. At the conclusion, of the simulation, student participants, volunteer faculty and staff, gathered to debrief. Below is a sampling of comments from those who participated in the Poverty Simulation.


Comments from Participants 

  • “This was an amazing – eye – opening experience. More people should participate in such an activity."
  • “Everyone in law school/grad school and in ‘real life’ should be required to participate in this.”
  • “Even though it’s a simulation, it’s the mindset you try to put yourself in that is interesting because you are forced to make decisions you normally have not had to make or consider.”
  • “This was a great exercise. I really enjoyed myself. This was a very good way to give people reality checks.”
  • “I thought it was a very realistic simulation of living beneath the poverty line. I played an 85-year-old single woman living alone and had to find my way and pay for expenses.”
  • “I really enjoyed this simulation. Even though I was fired after ICE raided my job. Then my first week I was robbed. Then I was deported. I had a really good time doing it.”
  • “It was as realistic as possible. We didn’t know where to go. I wish we had more time to pay things.”