Saturday, September 23, 2023

ATLAS hosts Poverty Simulation at MTSU to show impact of poverty on local families


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Photo and Story by Matthew Olson / Contributing Writer

Rutherford County Schools’ ATLAS program hosted the AMP Professional Development Poverty Simulation Thursday in an effort to show participants just how easy it is to become homeless.

Kim Snell, the director of the “Academic Time Leads to Achieving Students” ATLAS program, coordinated the simulation in the James Union Building Ballroom.

ATLAS is a Rutherford County school-based program, offering services such as “assistance with enrollment and transfer of records, automatic participation in federal nutrition program, school and special project supplies, academic support through Title I, weekend food backpacks, hygiene supplies, summer reading materials and information about agencies that provide services,” according to their website.

There have been other poverty simulations around Rutherford County, but this was the first time it has happened at Middle Tennessee State University.

Snell began the simulation by ominously announcing, “This is a simulation, not a game.”

The simulation is a three-hour exercise where volunteers from various organizations in Murfreesboro are divided into family groups. Each “family” received a packet with information like bios, background information and a list of their family’s monthly spending allowance and predicted expenses. Each table served a different purpose as locations that families visit to survive in their daily lives.

The simulation represents one month in the life of the participant’s assigned family. When Snell blew her whistle, participants left their chairs for a “week”- or in reality, fifteen minutes. Participants simulated traveling by bus pass and using the limited funds they are allotted. Snell warned some locations are only open on the week days. Others, like the jails, are always open.

As “Friday” came along, Snell blew her whistle. Everyone went back to their chairs and were again reminded that buses don’t run on the weekends, and some of their needs were not met. By the “third” week, some families had to flip their chairs and leave as a sign they have been “evicted.”

At the end of the fourth week, the simulation was over and the debriefing began. Snell asked for everyone to share what they felt was a struggle for their family. Some were angered, and some were saddened.

Saddened, it appears, is a warranted response: Homelessness is an everyday fact of life that many people face. The United States Census Bureau estimated in 2017 that Rutherford County had a population of 317,157, and since 2015, had a homeless population of over 2,000 people.

Karen Meader, who works for Rutherford County Schools as a volunteer, helped Snell with the event and thinks homelessness is a serious problem, saying, “A lot of people don’t figure it out until their lights are about to get cut off.”

If you or someone you know is a student experiencing homelessness, contact your school and ask for your ATLAS contact. You can also contact Kim Snell at

To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email

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