The Daily Bread Food Bank has released its annual report on food bank clients in the GTA. But unlike previous years, the 2013 report--Who's Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities--examines food bank usage across three different regions: the downtown core, the former inner suburbs, and the 905 region (full report here
"What we've done in the past is to look at the city as a whole and to analyze the demographics of food bank users in the city," says Richard Matern, report author and senior manager of public affairs at the Daily Bread. "But what we kept hearing from member agencies in certain parts of the city was that there were these huge increases in clients and we realized that many of these increases were occurring in the former suburbs of North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke. So that's what pushed us to look at things at a regional level. It's also consistent with other reports out there showing poverty in the inner suburbs increasing."
The Daily Bread is the largest distributor to food banks and other hunger relief agencies in the GTA. By conducting surveys from mid-February until mid-April 2013 at the Daily Bread's 170 member agencies, Matern's team was able to collect data from over 1,700 food bank clients across the region.
What the surveys showed, explains Matern, is not only that many Torontonians are struggling to pay for food, but that the struggles often affect different demographics in different areas of the GTA.
"In the city core we saw that the main food bank users are single people with disabilities who are 45 and up," explains Matern. "They're finding it harder to find work or re-entre the work force, and if they were working seasonally or contractually they may not have disability coverage outside of the Ontario disability support program. In many cases they cannot keep up with the cost of rent and food as well as their medication."
On the other hand, the report highlights that most food bank users in the inner suburbs are newcomers to Canada, many of whom of have been in the country for five years or less.
"We're seeing many educated people who have university degrees or higher, but they're struggling to maintain their housing costs and support their families," says Matern.
In the 905 region, food bank clients are often large families who, while they may have one member of the household working (as is the case about 40 per cent of the time), are struggling to afford both food and rent.
But while there are difference among food bank users, the overarching problem, says Matern, is often the same: housing in the GTA is not affordable.
"Regardless of other circumstance we're shocked at what percentage of income is spent on rent for our clients overall. Often up to 73 per cent of income goes towards rents. That's for people whether they are receiving social assistance--welfare or disability--or whether they're working."
"One of the policy implementations that we see as key to helping people [move out of poverty] is better housing benefits."
In the meantime, the Daily Bread is encouraging Torontonians to donate to the Daily Bread's Thanksgiving Drive. Launched the same day as the report's release, the drive aims to raise $300,000 and 200,000 pounds of food by October 19.
"We're finding very different issues emerging from each of the three cities [the core, former inner suburbs, and 905 region]," said Gail Nyberg, executive director of Daily Bread Food Bank at Tuesday's press conference. "The only common thing that they share is poverty, and the hunger that comes with it. In the short-term, Daily Bread can make sure they aren't going hungry, and in the long-term we're going to continue finding and fighting for solutions to poverty that will reduce the inexcusable levels of hunger that people across the city are struggling with."
Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Richard Matern and Gail Nyberg, Daily Bread Food Bank