Food bank demand soars as Metro Vancouver's housing crisis worsens

Dec 16 2019, 11:57 pm

In this era of Metro Vancouver’s history, many of our social and economic issues can be linked back to our housing issues, both directly and indirectly.

Part Two of Daily Hive’s extensive series on the impact of housing affordability takes a look at how the narrowed levels of disposable income towards housing costs have led to a heightened hardship on food security.

Based on a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report earlier this year, a $26.72 hourly full-time wage is needed to rent an average-priced one-bedroom unit, while a $35.43 hourly full-time wage is needed to rent an average-priced two-bedroom unit.

But for minimum wage workers, they would have to work over 80 hours per week to afford an average-priced one-bedroom unit or 112 hours per week for an average-priced two-bedroom unit.

In recent years, due to high demand and a low supply plummeting to vacancy of just 1%, rents have been creeping upwards.

At the same time, rising property values have pushed up property taxes, with landlords passing the costs to their retail and restaurant tenants and eventually their customers, resulting in a higher cost in goods.

For those on lower incomes, there is not much budgetary breathing room left to spare for everything else after housing costs are covered. Not even the essentials of food.

This is reflected in the Greater Vancouver Food Bank’s (GVFB) skyrocketing demand for its service.

As of August 2019, there was a 24% year-over-year increase in the number of people using the food bank’s services. But more troubling is the number of working people who are facing hardship to the extent that they are finding themselves dependent on the food bank.

There was a staggering 86% year-over-year increase in working people using the food bank’s services. This rate of growth is triple those with other income sources such as pensions and income assistance.

“Due to the rising cost of living coupled with a shrinking social support net, we are noticing a climate where many of our clients are having to make tough decisions about how to make ends meet,” Caroline Manuel with the GVFB told Daily Hive Urbanized.

“At GVFB we strive to create a respectful dignified Community Food Hub system connecting people with food and resources. However, this job is not easy, while food banks strive to offer temporary relief we see a number of our clients returning week after week building our food service into their survival plan. Affordable, stable, secure housing geared to the needs of individuals and families is one critical piece of this puzzle.”

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, half a million residents in the province cannot afford a basic healthy diet.

Within Vancouver Coastal Health’s jurisdiction, the average monthly cost of a basic healthy diet for a family of four was $1,056 in 2017. This accounts for 14% of the income of households making the median wage, 24% of the income of households earning the minimum wage, and 44% of the income of households on social assistance.

With disposable incomes constrained by housing costs, there is also an increased likelihood that more households are turning to cheaper, less healthy sources of food, including fast food as well as the “Dollarama diet” and other discount retailers.

Household food insecurity has a big impact on the population’s health and the public cost of healthcare due to higher rates of chronic diseases, poor mental health and emotional well-being, and even birth outcomes and maternal health.

On the food bank’s part, they are working towards increasing the proportion of fresh food that is made available to those who seek their services, instead of the traditional reputation of merely providing non-perishable food items.

Manuel says by the end of June 2019, distributed perishable and non-perishable food items measured at 74% food quality based on the rankings established by a registered dietitian in accordance with guidelines set out by BC School Food Guidelines. This is an increase from 67% in 2018.

Moreover, 55% of the food purchased in the last year was fresh and perishable.

GVFB is proactively working with food industry retailers and distributors to increase its supply of fresh food, with measures that include working with local farmers and doubling the organization’s refrigeration capacity.

As well, the organization’s recent headquarters and warehouse relocation from East Vancouver’s Strathcona district to a larger facility near Production Way-University Station in Burnaby provides the food bank with the opportunity to add even more freezer and refrigeration capacity.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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