Putting Hunger on The Map For The 2015 Federal Election

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Jobs that involve working with people are interesting and challenging. Depending on the nature of your job, you might get to know some people enough to recognize them, or even remember their names outside of your workplace.  I’m sure teachers get this a lot the longer they teach.  You’ll be out running an errand and you’ll see all sorts of former students or their parents.  Some you’ll remember, but some, likely not.  It’s funny what sticks in your mind or doesn’t.

Jobs that require you to work with the public make you realize the truth in the phrase “it’s a small world.”

I remember when I first started working at the House of Friendship’s Men’s Hostel on Charles Street, that the down town core of Kitchener changed for me.  I was not born it Kitchener or Waterloo, so I didn’t know a lot of people here when I first started living here.  It didn’t take too long working at the Hostel before I could recognize a lot of the people I passed on the street down town as former or current residents.  It drove home the understanding that most of the poverty that exists in our community is largely invisible and everyone has a story.

Now that I have been working at the Food Hamper Program for more than a decade, it doesn’t matter where I go.  I will usually see at least one or more people that I have served at some point.  At the grocery store, library, my kids school or 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 our help at one point or another in the course of any given year.

Who Needs A Food Bank?  Your Neighbour Does

In the previous post we shared what some of our community centre, food hamper and supportive housing participants had to say about the upcoming Federal election.

Today I would like to share some information specific to our Emergency Food Hamper Program, carrying on the work we did this summer, to determine what share each Federal and Provincial Electoral district had of the people we helped over a year.

For the Federal election, things are a little different, because of the additional of a new riding for this election and the modification of the remaining ones.

So, for the candidates striving for victory, once the votes are counted, and the winner announced, how many households that have needed a food bank will they represent?

A New Political Neighbourhood: Kitchener South-Hespeler

This is the newest addition to the political landscape locally.  It takes a chunk out of the old Kitchener-Conestoga riding and accounts for a significant portion of the people that have turned to us in the last six months.

Approximately 23% of all the hampers between March 1st and the start of September have gone to this riding.  That works out to more than 3000 visits from over 1400 households.  

Kitchener South Hespler

 

Kitchener – Conestoga

The new riding of Kitchener-Conestoga, minus the chunk of Kitchener that it used to contain, is largely rural, and is mostly outside the boundaries that we will serve, since we are focused on providing assistance to those who live in Kitchener or Waterloo.  Along the fringes of Kitchener Waterloo, we served only a few households.

Only 661 of our hampers went to 307 households living in this newly reshaped riding.  This accounted for only 5% of the hampers we served in the last six months.  

The three rural food hamper programs that serve the area outside our boundary distributed approximately 3000 hampers during March and September.

New Federal Riding Map

Kitchener Centre

The down town area of Kitchener is home to most of the people who will need to turn to us for help. Between March and September this year 7691 hampers went to 3400+ households living in this riding.  Accounting for 57% of the total hampers given out during that time period this where the majority of our case load lives.

Kitchener Centre

Waterloo

The riding that used to be Kitchener Waterloo, lost a little bit to Kitchener Centre.  The part that it lost is home to many of the households that needed to come through the door of our program.  A little more than 900 households in the Waterloo Riding received almost 2000 hampers, which represented around 15% of all the hampers we gave out between March and September.

It is my theory that the Universities and all of the students that they bring crowd out most of the long term residents.  As a result beyond the great wall of students, there are a number of neighbourhoods that need our help, but are able to visit us less frequently because of distance and expense.  We help people who visit us with bus tickets to get home, so if you live in down town Kitchener it’s easier to get to us when necessary by walking if you can, but we’re a long walk if you live on the other side of Conestoga mall.

Waterloo

More Than Just Maps And Numbers

What is the situation that we are in today?  What is the significance of some districts having more food insecure households than others?  In 2014 we served 5 out every 100 people in KW or 1 in 20.  This is an important number to remember and I’ll return to it in a few moments.  In the last six months we shared over 13,000 emergency food hampers.

In total during that same time period all of the food hamper programs in Kitchener and Waterloo food assistance network (my program included) distributed 35,044 hampers.  So our share is only 39% of all of the hampers given out during that time.

Three Sides To The Problem

We provide a service to people in crisis. They have a problem that we are able to provide a short term solution to it. We are not in the business of solving big problems, only lots of little ones.  We are not equipped or empowered to systemically work on the big problems.  We can make people less hungry, but we cannot stop people from becoming hungry.  That is a job that  falls on all or our shoulders.

The big problem that brings people to our door has many faces. An easy way of thinking about them is this way: People are hungry because of a lack of opportunities, a lack of money and a lack of stability.

Lack of opportunities might include lack of jobs, retraining, barriers created by racism, age, or lack of education.

For many work is not a path out of poverty because there are no jobs. For some getting a job is hard because people discount their out of country education or experience.  For some getting an education is too expensive.  Is a job likely after going to school and incurring lots of debt? What if you can’t qualify? Will it make a difference?  For some getting a job is difficult because employers prefer younger workers who expect fewer wages and who will be more willing to have their rights infringed because they’re desperate, or don’t know better.

Lack of money is probably the biggest driver of food insecurity.  This is because of slashed welfare rates that have stagnated, the minimum wage which isn’t close to what is needed to provide a decent life, difficulty qualifying for and surviving on Employment Insurance and to a lesser degree pensions for the elderly.

Lack of stability can be related to lack of money and opportunity, or it can exist all on its own.  It can include a lack of stable affordable housing, addiction, unstable households because of violence or the enduring impact of violence through war and displacement, as well as mental health struggles.

A box of free food may be able to solve a short term version of any of these problems. For some, that may be enough. Maybe for 4 of the 5 people out of every 100 in this region it will do the trick… but for the rest, there will be more struggle, more insecurity.

For that, we need lasting solutions.  As we all go to the polls on Monday, and after the dust settles on Tuesday consider what your neighbours and your community needs.  One thing is clear.

We need more than charity.

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