Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 23, 2012

Board game captures real life for the homless


---- — TRAVERSE CITY-- More than two years ago, a retired educator challenged homeless people at the Goodwill Inn to come up with a board game that captured the reality of their lives.

The game took months and ultimately hundreds of players to refine. The final board game — Home Sweet Homelessness: The Housing Reality Game That Will Open Your Eyes — soon will be introduced to the community.

So will an invitation to play the game with Goodwill Inn homeless shelter residents.

It isn't the kind of game you'll see it at Toys R Us. In fact, participants really have to play it with a homeless person to get true insights, said photographer Alan Newton, who will introduce the game at his Dec. 3 photo exhibit of area homeless people.

"I was playing and a woman drew a question card, 'What if you lose your children?' She was dealing with exactly that problem," he said.

The game starts with the premise of renting an apartment and doing the right things to get into a home.

Players progress or regress to different squares, depending on "challenges" such as a babysitter not showing up and "opportunities."

Lynn Cifka, who helped design the game when she was homeless during the summer of 2010, said the game changed her life.

"Becoming homeless was earth-shattering to me, but the game totally turned that whole experience around for me," she said.

Cifka, 56, was a stay-at-home mom who made crafts on the side. After her marriage of 33 years ended, she couldn't find a job, she said.

"The game forces you to look at your life. It's like a still-life painting," she said.

Cifka said she is taking online classes with hopes of marketing the game.

John Daniels inspired Goodwill Inn residents to create the game, and drew on his experience at the University of Detroit Mercy.

"I told them to get into their stories. 'What do you hear, what do feel, what do you smell, what do you see? Be there.' That's what I challenged them with. The degree to which they ran with it delighted and surprised me," Daniels said.

Most heart-wrenching are the "question" cards they wrote. All begin with the assertion, "You are homeless." How do you interview for a job if you stink? What will you do with your dog? Where do you go to the bathroom?

"These are tough questions they've had to answer themselves along the way," Daniels said.

Street Outreach Coordinator Ryan Hannon of the Goodwill Inn said the game gives players some needed distance and objectivity.

"When I was in a math class, my teacher told me the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. The homeless person is teaching someone else to get out of homelessness," he said.

After the game was created, an anonymous business donated services of a graphic designer. Folks around town have played the pilot games with great success, Daniels said.

Fred Schaafsma, a retired car executive who recently died, was so impressed he applied for a patent, Daniels said.

The next step is taking the game to the next level, Daniels said.

"I think the right people to do that will identify themselves when they sign up and play the game," he said.

Newton's photo exhibit, The Other Traverse City, Part 2, is slated to show Dec. 3 at the Traverse City Opera House from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be a sign-up at the event to play the game at the Goodwill Inn or email