The Experience of Homelessness

Apr 20, 2017

Most people know poverty exist but few truly understand what it means to be impoverished or homeless. As KWBU’s Juliana Taylor reports this issue stems from lack of knowledge and exposure. 


The life of someone without food, shelter and clothing readily available is an experience I have never known, but understand more after participating in Mission Waco’s Poverty Simulation.

In 1986, Jimmy and Janet Dorrell created this program where participants spend 43 hours experiencing a few of the challenges someone in poverty faces every day.

Janet Dorrell said, “There was a youth director from Ok City that had called us and said my youth group seems to know some things in their head but not in their heart so can they come spend a week with you.”

The Dorrell’s created a week long program that gave students a glimpse into inner city life and incorporated their knowledge of poverty across the world. And it worked.

Janet explains, “Discipleship in its best form is to walk it, see it, taste it and touch it and enter into the pain. And the weekend does all those things and that’s why it works.”

Janet Dorrell is the director of Mission Waco/Mission World and the program director of the Poverty Simulation. In the past 30 years, over 24,000 people have been educated about the issues and challenges real people experience everyday through the simulation.

There’s also a few challenges you should expect to face like:

only keeping 4 items out of all the belongings you bring, sleeping outside, lack of nutritional meals, finding lunch without money or begging, a lot of walking, weather, not feeling clean, and always feeling tired

During this weekend, I found myself saying over and over, “people really live like this.”

Janet said, “After they’ve done the weekend, it leaves them open to have a compassionate heart and love deeper. Love and compassion change everything. It overcomes a lot of fear. Your willing to take risks.”

The biggest difference from real poverty and simulated poverty is the presence of a community. During the simulation, you’re always with a group. Everyone takes care of each other. In real poverty, it’s not as easy to have a group of people to rely on. Kindness is few and far between. It’s harder to trust people. It’s harder to connect with people, especially when most people ignore you. Also, It’s harder to ask for help. So what can you do?

Teri Holtkamp said, “We all need to be educated about this, because if you’re not educated about something then you can’t do anything about it. And not doing anything about it, is basically letting it stay right where it is and that’s the most dangerous place you can be at.”

Teri Holtkamp is passionate about serving youth and teens escape the threat of poverty and homelessness here in Waco, which is why she is the Executive Director of the Cove. Holtkamp says that creating stability is one of the best ways to prevent homelessness.

Janet said, “If your born into poverty the playing field isn’t level. It can generational poverty or situational poverty.”

The problem isn’t always related to providing food, clothing and shelter for people in poverty. In fact, there’s numerous services that are already in place that provide these necessities in Waco, successfully. The problem is lack of interaction and partnership.

“It’s about relationships, it’s not about throwing money at people and programs. It’s being with people and being there for them,"Janet explains.

The most important lesson I learned from the poverty simulation is that you can never really understand someone until you spend some time in their shoes.