Blog posts tagged in GTA

At the recent Change Toronto event, Professor Valerie Tarasuk of the PROOF Network managed to captivate the room with her passionate and assured opening keynote which covered recent research on household food insecurity in the GTA. The event also included breakout workshops and a panel discussion moderated by Carolyn Young of Sustain Ontario and featured Ayal Dinner of West End Food Co-Op, Gail Nyberg of the Daily Bread Food Bank, and Victoria Armit of East Scarborough Storefront who all provided great insight into the community work and impact of their organizations within Toronto. (Notes from the event sessions will be available online in the coming weeks.)

This was a fantastic event that showcased amazing speakers, but I would like to focus on Valerie’s presentation in particular as it was so closely related to my most recent read-through of the report, “Who’s Hungry - A Tale of Three Cities” by the Daily Bread Food Bank. What made Professor Tarasuk’s presentation so interesting wasn’t the shocking numbers and statistics, but her observations of what those statistics mean from a sociological perspective. 61% of those experiencing household food insecurity are reliant on employment income. Valerie adds to this statistic by stating that raising minimum wage by 50 cents or a dollar will not fix this issue because the problem is that people people are underemployed and evidence shows the way to make it out of severe food insecurity (described as people who go a full day without food) comes from larger jumps in income. She highlights the model of Newfoundland's poverty reduction strategy which launched in 2006 as the only provincial strategy that has made any significant impact and encourages us to seek similar buy-in from other provincial governments.  

The entire presentation was extremely informative but some key highlights include the following:

  • 39% of food insecure Canadians live in Ontario and half of that in Toronto.
  • 557,00 adults and 104, 800 children live in food insecure households in the GTA 2011-2012
  • 16% of the food insecure are on social assistance. People in this situation have no financial cushion. Any unexpected expenses causes them to suffer.
  • 50% of all women experiencing severe food insecurity also experience anxiety and depression.
  • Impact of Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy has been non-existent. Don’t be diluted when provincial governments introduce a strategy, be critical of what is being proposed.

The message stressed throughout the morning session was that we as community organizations must realize we cannot fix this problem ourselves . Professor Tarasuk made a compelling comparison to the SARS epidemic, which saw communities look to our government to intervene with new health policies, short term and long term strategies to eliminate the health threat and ensure it didn’t return. Valerie went on to state that it is absurd to think that the issue of hunger, which is much larger than SARS can be achieved solely by community-based initiatives.

As a community organization, we’re still doing things right. Valerie emphasises that we must continue to advocate for policy change and design our programs so that the people who need them most (those with jobs, health problems, children, low income etc.) can all be involved. Organizations must continue to service those in dire straits and strive to make an impact.

This does beg the question of how much political advocacy can really be done by charitable organizations like Meal Exchange, as by CRA standards - only 10% of resources can be allocated to political activity, which can include advocacy for changes in public policy. Regardless, the Daily Bread Food Bank report and event held by Change Toronto, have left me with much to think about. As the food movement continues to grow on a national and international scale, it’s important to keep a local perspective and understanding of the issues in one’s own province, city, and neighbourhood.

Tagged in: GTA Hunger Statistics

Staff at Meal Exchange have been reviewing the Daily Bread Food Bank, “Who’s Hungry – A Tale of Three Cities” which profiles hunger in the city of Toronto and surrounding areas known as the GTA. As an organization with a national office based in Toronto, this report shines a spotlight on an area of Canada that many at Meal Exchange consider home.

Over the past week I’ve had the opportunity to read through this report and supplement my learning by attending a full day event hosted by Change Toronto entitled, “Hunger in Toronto - How to Improve Food Security” which saw a number of respected Food Security leaders speak to the growing issues of hunger in Toronto. Setting the tone for the event was keynote speaker Professor Valerie Tarasuk of the PROOF network who spoke to recent findings from local-based research studies done on household food insecurity in Ontario and the city of Toronto.

Who’s Hungry – A Tale of Three Cities

A Tale of Three Cities is a report that does not shy away from the fact that focusing on Food Bank usage as a means to measure hunger in the GTA is representative of only a portion of the population that is actually experiencing it. The report expresses a clear purpose which is to go beyond the numbers and begin understanding who needs to access food banks and why.The results may not paint the entire picture of hunger, but they do provide insight into overarching issues of an economic and social divide among citizens in the GTA.

Here are a few highlights that help drive the report:

  • 1.1 million people visited a food bank in the GTA between April 2012 - March 2013
  • Areas outside the city core (905 and inner suburban areas) are seeing increases in food bank usage. The trend of poverty moving outwards from the city center is attributed to –
    • A decrease in average income of over 20% throughout inner suburbs 1970-2005
    • The gentrification of neighborhoods
    • A decrease in affordable housing downtown and more affordable rental option in outlying areas
  • More women are accessing food banks compared to 2008 before the recession. There is a 4% spike in 45-64 year olds since 2008 and an increase of 3% for both post-secondary students and graduates.
  • People go hungry typically due to lack of money. In today's society, spending 30% of income on rent and utilities is considered affordable. Food bank users on average spend 73% of income on rent.
  • Neither "Ontario Works" nor "Ontario Disability Support Program" are indexed to the cost of living. In 1995, welfare rates were cut by 21.5% and only raised in small increments since. To bring the income of a single person receiving social assistance back to where it was before and indexed to inflation would require a 60% increase in social assistance rates.

The stigmas attached to food bank users are being proven extremely inaccurate. These are diverse groups of people who find themselves in similar situations - people transition to a new country, an aging demographic contending with disabilities or illness, people simply struggling with the rising costs of basic needs regardless of whether their income comes from social assistance or from employment.

Ultimately, what this report is calling for is an income security system that helps people pay rent and buy food no matter the state of economic system. This is an extremely important ask, as poverty and hunger are two issues that are so closely related.

Join us tomorrow for the second half of this series on Hunger and Food Security in the GTA, which features Greg’s comments on the recent event hosted by Change Toronto, “Hunger in Toronto - How to Improve Food Security”

Tagged in: GTA Hunger Statistics