Who Represents Hunger, Part 3

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Who represents the most food insecure households in kitchener waterloo?

Which local politicians represent the most food insecure households?

If you have been elected to political office, you have a big job.  You have to listen to your constituents, provide leadership, help a lot of people and try and invest in the neighbourhoods and businesses that make up your district.  All the while, you are also working with your political neighbours, reacting to events both big and small and trying to do the “right thing” by different constituencies, some of which, have conflicting views of the world.

People who struggle with poverty and live on a low income are one of these interests, and traditionally, they do not have a respected place in public discussions.  There are groups that advocate for and with them, but in talking about the issues, there are not always good numbers to use to describe the scale or impact of certain social problems.

Take hunger or food insecurity for example.  As I discussed in my previous post in this series, the number of people using food banks is hard to pin down.  It may be getting a little easier in Ontario, as I discussed in a recent post about Link 2 Feed, but if we want to talk to elected representatives locally about the number of people they represent that currently struggle to get food on their tables, it has been difficult, because those numbers haven’t really existed.

What if we knew how many people in what district, or ward are food insecure?

Have we been in a position to share this information before?  Sort of.  We could share the big number, but fine tuning it, to identify the neighbourhoods where there is a lot of food insecurity has been challenging.  We could split it up Waterloo versus Kitchener, but that doesn’t tell us too much. It could roughly be inferred via census data – but census tracts don’t line up with electoral districts.   And the census does not happen on a regular basis (when it happen[ed?] at all).

But there is good news: we are getting more up to date and fine tuned information!

Bread and Flying Circuses, Open North and Googleplexes

By going through our records and making use of some open source tools (python and its many amazing community built libraries, the incredible Open North Represent api and the power of Google) we were able to take  a look at our 2014 database and determine every patron’s electoral district.

So, how does it look, for each of the districts?

Kitchener Centre

 

2014 Kitchener Centre Heat Map - EFHP Household Demand

Kitchener Centre is where the most food insecure households resided in 2014.

The down town section of Kitchener that makes up this district is the densest section of urban poverty, and represents the largest percentage of our total case load.  Approximately 51% of the households we served resided in this electoral district, represented on the provincial level by Daiene Vernile and on the federal level by Stephen Woodworth.  That translates into about 4700 households, made up of a little more than 10,000 people.  On average they received three hampers each during the year.

Kitchener Waterloo

 

2014 Kitchener Waterloo Heat Map of EFHP Household Demand For Food

Kitchener Waterloo contained the next largest share of households from our 2014 case load. Many of them are a long distance from our program.

Representing the section of Kitchener above Victoria Street up in to Waterloo to a little beyond Conestoga Mall, Kitchener Waterloo represents about 27% of our total case load.  Represented on the provincial level by Catherine Fife and by Peter Braid on the federal level these 2467 households were made up of about 5100 people.

 

Kitchener Conestoga

 

2014 Kitchener Conestoga Heat Map of Demand for Food from the Emergency Food Hamper Program

Kitchener Conestoga contained approximately 2100 households that needed our help in 2014

I think of Kitchener Conestoga as a big doughnut of farmland that surrounds Kitchener and Waterloo.  That’s not a great way to describe it, because it also includes a large chunk of south Kitchener, which is where the households we served live.  We set our boundaries for service as the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. However we did help some people, one off, who lived outside of those boundaries, but referred them to the programs that are set-up to help them.  On the provincial level Michael Harris represents this district and on the federal level, Harold Albrecht.  Together, they have to balance both rural and urban constituencies and approximately 22% of the households we served last year.  That works out to a little more than 2100 Households, made up of almost 5700 people.

So what can we conclude?

For many people this door is their first experience with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program

An average of 120 households and individuals came through this door every day, Monday to Friday in 2014

 

We are only part of the picture.  There are people in the Region we will never serve.  They may go to different programs, or they may never take the step to get help and choose to suffer in silence because they are afraid of what it might mean to come here. Others simply do not know we exist. However, it is probably a safe assumption that we have served the biggest share of people in the region, and our numbers, even if they are only approximate, illustrate the scale of the issue with a high degree of accuracy.

Can we use this breakdown of our case load to assign blame or shame on these political representatives?  No.  Slicing the information about the people we served into the different districts adds a layer of accountability, but it’s not like the different representatives voted in their respective legislatures to have X amount of people be hungry and Y amount to not.

What the recipients said

Will we ever be able to have a community where the human right to food is realized completely?  Have we ever?  Likely not, but the last 20 plus years have seen greater levels of food insecurity and actual hunger than the 20 years before it. That result was not inevitable, not unavoidable, not because of an act of God, rather it was because of many different shared political decisions made through the processes that we are all a part of.

In the lead up to the last provincial election, we asked people what they wanted to say to the people running.  In it, we highlight the concerns that our recipients expressed, in their own words.  They’re concerned about fairness, survival, and having a future.

As we get closer to a federal election, the greater the significance of considering our shared future and the people in your neighbourhood who lack one our most basic needs:  food.

What you can do

So, I’ve just described a large, complicated, seemingly intractable social problem.  I put it on a map.  What now?

If you donate to food drives in your workplace, school or place of worship, keeping donating.  People are hungry, and a can of soup might not seem like much to you, but it means the world to someone who has children to feed and nothing to give them.

But remember, that family is not the victim of a natural disaster that has forced them from their home.

Don’t give up hope for that family, and the many like them all across our country.  Words like poverty are abstract, scary and hard to fix.  Hunger is real, tangible and it punches you in the stomach and grinds you down, minute by minute, day by day. You don’t’ deserve to be hungry, your neighbours don’t deserve to be hungry.  No one does.  Hunger is horrible.

So if all you can do is donate one thing.  Great.  You are setting the clock back on hunger for someone.  You are buying someone a few meals.  You are saying in a loud voice, you care.  That is a hugely important first step.

Next, if you can, spread the word.  People not having enough to eat each day is a big problem.  Don’t let it fade into the background.  There is no easy answer.  Start a conversation.  Volunteer.  Get involved.

Finally, if you have any further energy or time. Get to the root.  Write a letter, call, or visit your local member of parliament. Let them know that you care about this issue and you want to put food banks out of business. Ask them what they are doing about child poverty, let them know that people matter and you don’t want your neighbours to burn themselves out with worry and hardship.

Wouldn’t you hope, that someone else would do the same for you?

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One Response to “Who Represents Hunger, Part 3”

  1. Putting Hunger on The Map For The 2015 Federal Election | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] just walking through my neighbourhood.  It is a small city after all and as I am about to share, (and have in the past) there are very few neighbourhoods in the city that don’t have someone in them who has needed […]

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