In the face of intense scrutiny, the City of Highland Park has canceled a Poverty Simulation scheduled for Saturday.
The event, a project of the Alliance of Human Services of Lake County, is designed to boost resources, awareness and education surrounding those experiencing poverty. The group’s Poverty Simulations were held in other Lake County municipalities, such as Libertyville and Lake Forest, in 2022; however, the Highland Park iteration was quickly and thoroughly criticized when it was publicized in a Facebook post.
City of Highland Park Communications Manager Amanda Bennett said public feedback, which she said officials also received via email and telephone, led to the event’s cancellation. She declined to comment further on the decision but said the City was expecting about 100 participants to the event, which was to be held at the Highland Park Country Club, a public venue that houses the city’s senior center.
The Alliance for Human Services took to Facebook to respond to the cancellation, calling the social media commentary an “overwhelming onslaught of negative public misinformation.”
“While we believe these types of events start community conversations that are crucial to combatting poverty, the extensive social media response has overshadowed the event’s purpose,” the post reads.
Criticism of the event took off after it was on Sept. 6 shared and mocked on X (formerly Twitter) by Libs of TikTok, an anti-liberal and anti-LGBTQ+ account that has been banned from TikTok and has more than 2.5 million followers. The post had nearly 2 million views as of Thursday evening, Sept. 7, according to X data.
Most Facebook posts from the City of Highland Park receive a handful of comments and reactions. Its more sensitive posts, regarding crime or gun legislation, may receive more than a hundred of each. The Facebook post about the poverty event has garnered nearly 2,000 comments, more than 1,000 reactions, and more than 900 shared posts with their own comments and reactions.
The Poverty Simulation is touted as a two and a half hour “immersive experience” in which participants are put into situations with insufficient resources to gain perspective of what “a month of poverty feels like,” according to a City description. The event was co-sponsored by Family Focus, Moraine Township and the Highland Park Community Foundation.
According to the Alliance for Human Services The Poverty Simulation is a program owned by the Missouri Community Action Network that has been offered across the globe with a mission to “promote poverty awareness, increase understanding, inspire local change and transform perspectives.”
Many online users — some from Highland Park and others not from the area — chastised the event for being held in the North Shore suburb, which has the 26th highest median household income ($155,226) in the state, and at a venue called a country club.
The Highland Park Country Club, however, is not a country club, at least not anymore. The facility was purchased by the City of Highland Park in 1996. The senior center moved into the building in 2021, and it also serves as an event space and catering facility in the evening hours. The golf course portion of the property was closed in 2017 and recently reopened as The Preserve, a natural and passive-recreation space managed by the Park District of Highland Park.
Aaron Brooks, reportedly a Highland Park resident, commented on Facebook that he believes the local organizations were attempting to make a positive impact on the community but executed poorly.
“It’s amazing to me that those that I know are from (Highland Park) continue to bash this event,” he wrote. “Clearly the Alliance was trying to do something positive — and these types of events have indeed been happening run around the country very successfully. … Having it at a place called a ‘country club’ probably wasn’t the greatest idea. We in (Highland Park) know that the country club is just a city owned recreation center that is in a state of disrepair.”
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