SPENT and Homelessness: It's all a Game, Until You're It

Feb 8, 2011
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

We all have our preconceived notions of how someone ends up homeless: Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Mental illness.

Maybe our presumptions are flawed.

SPENT, a new online game, puts players in the shoes of a mentally stable adult who is suddenly jobless, and challenges players to keep their families from falling into homelessness.

Want to play? Start by considering "stay afloat" options like taking an immediate position in a restaurant, warehouse or as a temp. 

Would you prefer to make $8 an hour at a restaurant or lift 20-pound boxes in a warehouse all day? (Photo: SPENT)

You sign up to be a temp, but fail the typing test. Spin again. If you land a job as a restaurant server or warehouse worker, you can opt into health care—but the coverage will be spotty, and it will cost you.

Every SPENT move you make further depletes your small paycheck. If you buy groceries to feed your family for a week, how far from your job will you be forced to live to afford rent?

Hope you have a good car, because all affordable rents are 30 miles from where you work. (Photo: SPENT)

You have a family and are making around $300 per week. The game shows the player just how difficult keeping a roof overhead is when emergencies arise—like your pet getting sick (that animal will need to recover on its own power) or your car breaking down (good idea to repair the vehicle since you may soon be living in it).

I played the game three times. My best result was to become homelessness within 12 days. It isn't exactly a party game, but the eye-opening simulation illustrates how 3.5 million people spend time homeless each year.

SPENT was created by McKinney advertising agency and Urban Ministries of Durham, a North Carolina nonprofit providing food, clothing, shelter and supportive services to people whose only failing was to become homeless.

Just so there are no sore losers, at the end of the game, players are given options to take action or donate to the Urban Ministries of Durham.

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