As a multi-service agency and a member agency of Daily Bread Food Bank, Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA) operates a food bank in its location at the Dorset Park Community Hub. The Daily Bread Food Bank has just released its 2015 profile of hunger in Toronto: ‘Who’s Hungry, A Tale of Two Cities’ depicting a concerning picture of the increasing disparity between rich and poor in our city. The report also shows a geographic shift of poverty. Visits in the inner suburbs including Scarborough are up 45% to 532, 330 visits. In comparison, the city core has seen a 16% decrease in food bank visits over the same period. Cost of housing may be making the downtown a no “arrival city” for newcomers. ACSA’s numbers confirm that there are more newcomers accessing its food bank – 68% of ACSA’s clients are Canadian citizens versus 75% accessing food banks in Toronto as a whole.
The need in Scarborough is substantial – children are going hungry and some adults are skipping meals in order to make ends meet. 40% of ACSA’s surveyed clients have refrained from eating for an entire day – 35% across the city have similarly gone without food. Average use is up from 1 year to 2 years largely due to the high cost of rent, low incomes on ODSP, and the shift to part-time, casual, or seasonal employment. The vast majority of clients have no dental or drug benefits. At the same time, clients are actively working towards a better tomorrow. 20% of ACSA’s surveyed clients have at least one member of the family working – the statistic is 16% across Toronto. Fewer Scarborough clients are claiming disability benefits – 26% of ACSA surveyed clients compared to 34% citywide. Scarborough clients are also paying higher rent on average – $950 as compared to $860 across the city. And, there are more families with children accessing food banks in Scarborough – 40% of ACSA’s clients are children under 18 as compared to 32% of the city’s food bank clients.
Food banks are also struggling with the geographic shift of poverty. Gentrification has led to eviction from more central areas putting more pressure on programs in the inner suburbs. Food banks in Scarborough are overcrowded and can only do what they can, unable to meet the entirety of the need or to reach out to those who are food insecure and do not seek food assistance. Smart policy changes such as the 2006 Ontario Child Benefit and the 2001 Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for seniors have helped, though 2014 statistics are evidence of a poor recovery from the 2008 recession and we are now likely facing another. The money available to food bank clients after rent and utilities are paid is not enough – only $6.67/per person/per day because levels of income on OW and ODSP do not reflect the actual cost of living.
Families, especially those with children, have a lasting fear of being evicted and becoming homeless. ACSA provides a range of programs on site such as a newcomers centre, cooking classes, language classes, safety, early childhood, gardening, exercise, seniors programs, and a housing clinic. The hub model also offers additional resources provided by ACSA’s partner organizations in Dorset Park. As of 2015, ACSA’s Food Community Food Activist program has been open for food bank clients to enrol in a series of workshops which seek to inform and empower so that clients can gain and utilize existing resources in order to reduce or eliminate food bank use. The focus of Ontario’s second five year Poverty Reduction Strategy will be on employment and income security for vulnerable populations including those with disabilities. What can concerned Torontonians do to help? Support food banks and other food security initiatives by donating and volunteering… and find out where political parties and their candidates stand on poverty issues. By working together we can seek to offer a hand up rather than a hand out.