Highland Park has canceled a planned “poverty simulation” slated for this weekend after some criticized the event on social media.
“Due to public feedback, the event has been canceled,” the city told NBC Chicago in a statement Thursday.
The event was originally announced Tuesday, but city officials responded Wednesday to criticism to.
The northern Chicago suburb has announced it was partnering with the Alliance for Human Services, Family Focus, Moraine Township, and the Highland Park Community Foundation to host “a poverty simulation event to increase residents’ understanding and awareness of what it is like to live in poverty in Lake County.”
The event, set for Saturday at the Highland Park Country Club, will give participants an “immersive experience” aimed at showing them what a month in poverty feels like, according to the city’s posting.
“Participants are put into situations in which they do not have enough resources and are forced to make difficult choices that can negatively impact them and their families,” the event description states. “The outcome is increased awareness of the need for resources to support those living in poverty to create a more resilient health, human, and education sector in our local area.”
The event quickly sparked reaction on social media.
“Wow. The privilege here is just beyond words. What a slap in the face to all of those who are struggling, especially in today’s economy,” one commenter wrote.
“I have to echo the tone-deafness of this. Held at a country club of all places,” another user wrote. “You’re literally holding an event to make rich people feel good about themselves and further stigmatize the experiences of people in poverty. It’s not even a fund raiser? A food drive? Something that would give anything back to the people whose experiences you’re pretending to care about?”
Highland Park is an affluent community located on Chicago’s North Shore. In a report from 2021, the Chicago suburb was listed among the richest cities in the country, with a median household income that was “more than double the national figure,” according to data analyzed by finance website 24/7 Wall Street.
City Manager Ghida Neukirch said the simulation event was “developed and presented by social services professionals.”
“The city is partnering with social services professionals from Highland Park and Lake County to offer this immersive experience to raise awareness of the need for resources to support individuals experiencing economic insecurity, and the wide-ranging consequences of this systemic inequity on families and communities,” Neukirch said in a statement to NBC Chicago. “Programs such as this one, which are developed and presented by social services professionals, are intended to bridge that gap.”
The city also noted that the Highland Park Country Club is a city-owned facility that houses the town’s senior city and “is the city’s only building capable of hosting events of that size.”
According to the Alliance for Human Services, the poverty simulation event is hosted throughout the year “to empower Lake County leaders, including teachers and other school personnel, government leaders, volunteers, and nonprofit staff and board members, to expand their knowledge, increase resources for those experiencing poverty, and create a more resilient health, human and education sector.”
The simulation asks participants to “role-play the lives of low-income individuals.”
“The simulation is a two and a half to three-hour experience for those who have not experienced poverty to begin to walk in the shoes of neighbors who have,” the alliance’s website states.