LIFTopolis (no, it’s not a dinosaur)

By LIFT on August 12, 2014

Categories: First Person Perspective, Our Work

As part of the extensive training of LIFT-Boston’s new AmeriCorps members, we recently discovered LIFTopolis – and no, it’s not a new species of dinosaur, despite how unwieldy, unfamiliar and archaic it may have felt. Rather, LIFTopolis is a resource simulation that places participants in the shoes of someone living around the poverty line who needs help accessing housing, public benefits, and other social services.

Participating alongside my fellow AmeriCorps members and volunteer advocates, our Boston program directors, our board members, and individuals from our community partner organizations, I received a profile of a low or no income individual living in this fictitious city called LIFTopolis and then had to visit the various tables in the room that represented service providers. The process seems simple—until you start to work toward the goals listed in your profile. Need to apply for SSI or SSDI? You’ll first probably get rerouted to gather the many forms of verification you need (photo ID, proof of citizenship, proof of disability, work history, etc.), which you can try to get at the Town Hall. Need housing? If you can get through the long lines, hope that they have a copy of the application in your language.

The profiles we as participants took on included everything from needing a job and income, searching for stable housing, and lacking healthcare to struggling to afford childcare and needing mental health services. There is one advantage to the simulation, however: all of the resources were in the same room, eliminating the expense and time commitment of traveling across the greater Boston area, which in reality is a huge barrier to accessing services.

Although a simulation, LIFTopolis feels very real. Waiting in long lines becomes especially frustrating when the agency unexpectedly closes; finally reaching the people you think will help you is humiliating when they don’t even look you in the eye or answer your inquiry in a sarcastic tone; being turned away time after time transforms a once warm and friendly person into a jaded and bitter one.

If only this were just a training tool. The experience of the LIFTopolis participants reflects the very real experiences of LIFT’s Members when they try to apply for and receive the services that were implemented to assist them through their shaky ground moments. The critical work LIFT does is to help our Members navigate this complex web of social services, from the elderly to graduate students and everyone in between.

As participants discussed their frustrations at the end of LIFTopolis, there resonated throughout the room a desire to have been able to meet with someone during the simulation who would patiently explain all the options and rules to them. It is from this need that LIFT continues to grow and lift members out of poverty, out of frustration, exasperation, dead ends and disrespect. The experience we strive to provide at LIFT begins with the courteous and welcoming attitude with which we greet each and every member, whether at the door or on the other end of the phone line. Something as simple as maintaining this friendly demeanor makes a world of difference in establishing an honest and productive relationship with members.

LIFTopolis, while only a simulation, allowed new staff members to confront and grapple with some of the barriers that our members will be facing. LIFTopolis provided our partners with a glimpse into the more specific issues that LIFT addresses, often broadly categorized into the unspecific term “poverty.” While indeed unfamiliar and unintelligible, LIFTopolis is far from a dinosaur; it is an opportunity to empathize with our neighbors and a reason to work towards sustainable change, towards a more equal and uplifting world.

Check out more photos from LIFTopolis here.