The State of Food Insecurity: Hunger Count 2015

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hungercount2015-singles-p3-normalToday, Food Banks Canada released the HungerCount 2015 report, which shows that 850,000 people access food banks each month. More than 300,000 of those helped are children. Here in Waterloo Region 1 in 20 households received food assistance. Half of these households are families with children.

The HungerCount offers stark evidence of the realities faced by far too many people in Canada: the reality that a job does not always guarantee food security; the reality that safe, quality housing is too often unaffordable; the reality that social assistance, disability and basic pension benefits are inadequate to support people who have fallen on hard times.

The volunteers and staff who run community food banks are proud of the work they do to help Canadians put enough food on the table. Nationally, the food bank network has adapted to changing times by increasing the variety of food available to the people it helps, and by providing services that go beyond the simple provision of food. The network today is radically different from what existed in the 1980s, when food banks first started opening their doors in Canada.

In Waterloo Region, we have a vital community Food Assistance Network of more than 100 programs anchored by two food banks: the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. By working together the network provides a respectful, warm environment where members of our community can receive the nutritious food they need. They can connect with programs that empower them to learn more about healthy eating, budgeting, food preparation and services to help find employment, counselling, affordable housing and other needs.2015 food-bank-use-report

While food bank volunteers and staff are proud of their work, as Canadians they are less than proud of the fact that 850,000 people need to access their services each and every month. They understand that this should not be happening in a country as prosperous as Canada; they understand that though they provide an essential service in their communities, food banks are a partial and imperfect solution to the problems caused by widespread poverty and food insecurity.

In Waterloo Region 33,700 individuals in our community accessed food assistance programs in 2014. These programs, located in neighbourhoods across Waterloo Region, provided 88,613 hampers in 2014. Every day of the week over 1500 hot meals are provided to those seeking a hot, healthy meal and a warm place to stay at community meal programs or within an emergency shelter. Our Community Food Assistance Network provides an important safety net for the community.

Within the Region, 18% of those accessing food assistance are employed or receive Employment Insurance, 28% receive Ontario Disability Support. Ontario Works recipients make up 36% of food support recipients.

“There continues to be a struggle for low income households to make ends meet. This is especially poignant as we consider residents on fixed incomes, working in low-paying jobs and new Canadians struggling to find their way in a new country,” said Pat Singleton, Executive Director of the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.

Lack of affordable housing continues to be a high priority identified by the Community Food Assistance Network. The recent Nutritious Food Basket Report illustrated that low income households spend a far greater percentage of their wage on rent than those receiving a median income. A single person on Ontario Works spends 94% of their income on rent. The majority of the 33,723 individuals that received food assistance in Waterloo Region last year live in rental properties.

“We see too many people unable to pay the bills despite working full time and too many people struggling to get back on their feet with inadequate income and training supports,” said Wendi Campbell, Executive Director of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. “This is a very generous community but we can’t do it all. We endorse Food Banks Canada’s recommendations to government towards providing meaningful increases to supports that will positively change lives.”

In the short-term, people turn to food banks for diverse reasons – layoffs, a sudden illness, a rent increase that cuts into a family’s food budget. In these situations, food banks are responsive, fast-acting, essential. Over the long term, however, it should not fall to the charitable sector to manage the fallout from larger negative economic realities.

Too many Canadians are working in low-paying jobs that just don’t pay the bills. Too many of the unemployed struggle to get back on their feet with inadequate income and training supports. Too many people facing health problems have burned through their savings while in treatment. This is the domain of federal, provincial and territorial governments – and they are falling short.

To address these long-term issues, the HungerCount puts forward four broad policy recommendations:

1. Create a basic income to replace provincial social assistance programs;
2. Increase the availability of affordable housing;
3. Invest in skills training for Canadians most at risk of failing in the labour market;
4. Increase access to traditional foods and reduce the cost of store-bought foods in northern communities.

Food banks are watching closely as the new federal government under Prime Minister Trudeau sets its priorities for the new year. They have high hopes – and high expectations – that the most vulnerable Canadians will be among those priorities.

Wendi Campbell
Executive Director
The Food Bank of Waterloo Region
And
Shawn Pegg
Director, Policy and Research
Food Banks Canada

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One Response to “The State of Food Insecurity: Hunger Count 2015”

  1. After 30 Years of Food Banking How Are We Doing? | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […]  They are solving a lot of short term problems for sure, but hunger is a long term problem that is not going away.  How you can “solve” this problem can be described in three ways.  You can start […]

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