Despite Economic Gains, Many in Toronto are Still Going Hungry
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.




Despite Economic Gains, Many in Toronto are Still Going Hungry

A new report from the Daily Bread Food Bank suggests that low-income people in some parts of the GTA are still recovering from the recession.

Percentage increases in food bank use from 2008. Image from “Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities.”

The 2013 edition of the Daily Bread Food Bank’s annual “Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities” report, which was released earlier today, says that although the number of people accessing food banks in the GTA has stabilized with the economy, certain groups are becoming more marginalized than ever, in part because of high rents and a lack of full-time work.

Vulnerable groups being left behind as the city prospers include boomers with disabilities, immigrants, and people on social assistance, all of whom often go hungry in order to pay the bills.

Here are some of the report’s other findings.

The Numbers

For the fifth year in a row, GTA food banks have had over one million visits. But different areas are seeing different trends.

In Toronto’s city core between April 2012 and March 2013, the report says, food banks saw about the same number of visits they did in 2008. Effectively, demand for food has fallen to pre-recession levels.

But it’s a different story in the city’s inner suburbs, where food bank visits during that same period of time still exceeded 2008 levels by 38 per cent. In the 905 region, visits were up 19 per cent over 2008 levels.

Based on more than 1700 interviews with users of food banks, the study says 40 per cent go hungry at least once per week. (Hunger is defined as not eating a full meal, not eating a balanced meal, or not eating at all.)

Why Are People Going Hungry?

“The main reason food bank visits remain so high is because 69 per cent of food bank clients are on social assistance,” the report says. It claims that a 60 per cent increase in social assistance payments would be needed to bring them in line with the cost of living.

Work isn’t a solution, either, in part because of a lack of available full-time jobs. And then there’s the fact that a $15 hourly wage often isn’t enough to lift people out of poverty, especially when they have to pay for expensive medications and other health-related treatments.

Number of people using Toronto food banks plotted against unemployment levels. Image from “Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities.”

Who’s Hungry?

The data shows that clients of food banks have an average monthly income of less than $700 and are spending close to three quarters of their income on rent.

“Food becomes a luxury,” the report says. “You need a roof over your head, and the risk of homelessness is very high in this situation. For some, this is a short-term crisis that lasts a few months, while others may have to manage this way for years.”

People visiting food banks in the inner suburbs and the 905 region are more likely to have families with children, whereas those in the city core are more likely to be single people with disabilities.

Data from the inner suburbs shows that people visiting food banks are often well-educated newcomers to Canada with children. They’re trying to get jobs, but are faced with numerous barriers to employment. The report says the situation in the 905 is similar.

The city core paints another “equally troubling picture”—that of an aging population, including many single people with disabilities.

How Do People Remain Hungry?

People interviewed for the report said they were hopeful that coming to a food bank was not a permanent “survival measure,” but rather a temporary solution to their problem.

In the GTA as a whole, according the report’s numbers, half of people going to a food bank had been doing so for 13 months or less. In the city core, though, the median length of time was 24 months.

“Those who have been coming for longer than two years are often receiving fixed incomes such as welfare or disability payments, and cannot sustain paid employment,” the report says.

You can download “Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities” right here: [PDF]