By Adam Stroud
The most significant find of the report is that while overall usage of food banks is on a slow decline, the percentage of disabled food bank users in the GTA is higher than ever.
Thirty per cent of food bank users in the GTA are on the Ontario Disability Support Program. That number is up 13 percentage points from 17 per cent in 2005.
“Often the face of hunger and poverty in hidden in our city,” said Richard Matern, Daily Bread’s Senior Manager of Research and author of the report.
“But our number show that too many people are having trouble paying the rent and keeping food on the table,” told a press conference on Thursday in Toronto.
While overall food bank usage is down seven per cent, the rates still remain nine per cent above pre-recession levels. For six years in a row, over one million people have visited food banks in the GTA.
The report is based on nearly 1,000 comprehensive, face-to-face interviews with food bank users from 37 different food banks across the GTA.
Andrew Majik is a volunteer with daily bread at their information referral centre, a recipient of disability funding and an occasional food bank user. He told Humber News the problem lies with the support program’s failure to keep up with the cost of living.
“We find that a lot of individuals who are on disability, who are on fixed incomes, maybe three, four, five years ago, they could afford a healthy diet,” he said.
“But because of the disparity between the increase of social assistance rates and the increase of cost of living, they can no longer make ends meet.”
Majik is disabled himself. He suffers from a learning disability that makes reading a challenge. He described his experience applying for ODSP as “trying, at best.” He says it took him over one year to get approval of funding.
One issue all clients have in common is the high portion of income they spend on rent
Matern said that because ODSP is not indexed to inflation the rapidly rising cost of food and housing in the city is forcing people to search for assistance elsewhere.
“One issue all clients have in common is the high portion of income they spend on rent,” Matern said.
He said the average monthly income of food bank visitors is $750 and that 40 per cent of client’s who receive assistance report not eating for an entire day at least once during the last year.
The increasing rent costs in Toronto combined with the low ODSP rates is forcing low-income families and individuals out of the city and into the inner suburbs of Toronto. The rates of food bank use in the suburbs of Toronto have increased the most significantly because of this, up 38 per cent from 2008.
Majik’s own experiences with poverty match Matern’s findings. He said that after rent and bills he only has around $100-150 per month for food, transportation and other necessities.
The release of the report is part of Daily Bread’s annual Thanksgiving Drive.
The food bank has goals of raising $300,000 and 200,000 pounds of food by Oct. 18, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
“It wouldn’t surprise people to know that coming out of summer our shelves are pretty bare,” said Gail Nyberg, Executive Director of Daily Bread told the press conference.
“They’re bare because people who donate to us – either money or food – are not really thinking about the need in the summer.”
She said she hopes reports like Who’s Hungry can be used to help change public policy.
Majik echoed the sentiment. He said he hopes people think carefully about who they vote for in the forthcoming mayoral election.
“We have a unique opportunity to discuss these things as we decide who is going to leading the city going forward,” he said.