In order to make a real impact in helping to reduce hunger for our vulnerable residents, strong investments have to be made in it so that people can better afford to purchase their own food. In addition, new approaches to coordination and planning have to take into account the extensive network of community-based food organizations that already exist.
On November 4, 2015, Council unanimously approved TO Prosperity, Toronto’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy which recommended actions to create good jobs, improved transit, housing, childcare and other services. Given that all three levels of government are now committed to poverty reduction, the stars have aligned and there is potential to make a large dent in the growing poverty in our City.
In a letter signed by leaders from over 50 civic organizations including Daily Bread Food Bank, and endorsed by the Toronto Region Board of Trade, groups urged Mayor John Tory and members of Toronto City Council to move on 49 recommendations that will advance the city’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
The recommendations in this letter came from hundreds of individuals and community groups who took part in consultations through the Commitment 2 Community coalition. Their input in these consultations was guided from seeing or experiencing first-hand the impact of poverty. While the majority of these recommendations would require no monetary investment in 2016, the City’s proposed $6 million falls far short of the $75 million required to implement the remaining third of the recommendations.
It is important that the 2016 Budget make a significant down payment toward reducing poverty in our City. Through a combination of new approaches, careful planning and strong investment, the City has potential to both improve the quality of life for its vulnerable citizens, and the ability for front line agencies such as food banks to better address hunger in our communities.
Helping Toronto residents afford food
“I’ve been waiting for housing for 5 years and they tell me it’s another 10 year wait. All the money I get goes to rent.” Respondent from Who’s Hungry survey
Daily Bread’s latest Who’s Hungry report shows that there were nearly 900,000 visits to Toronto food banks in the last year alone, with a 45 per cent increase in the inner suburbs since 2008. On average food bank clients are spending 71 per cent of their income on rent, and access help for an average of two years, whereas a few years ago it was only one year. Even though a main driving force of food bank use is due to social assistance policy at the Provincial level, many day to day struggles for clients intersect with other issues that affect their ability to afford food, including high housing, child care, and transit costs. These are areas that the city can have an impact on through some of these recommendations from the coalition, which would result in concrete outcomes that could reduce the need for food banks for clients of Daily Bread member agencies. They include: making rents affordable for 7,000 households; providing access to subsidized childcare to 1,500 children in families that are struggling to afford childcare; and ensuring stable jobs and decent wages for workers delivering city services.
Helping food programs access suitable space
“We’re in a vulnerable neighbourhood, but don’t have access to a suitable space that’s affordable – we’re a breath away from having to close.” Helena Houldcroft, Flemingdon Park Food Bank
Daily Bread Food Bank is a non-profit organization that provides food and support to almost 200 food programs and 136 member agencies across Toronto. There are many Daily Bread Food Bank member agencies operating in almost every ward throughout the city. The majority of our member agencies run their food programs in local churches and community centres. Dedicated staff and volunteers in these agencies pick up, stock, and distribute food to people in their community in addition to providing other services to support people on low incomes.
While the goodwill and workforce to distribute food to those that are hungry are bountiful, the available space to run these programs are not. Available space to operate food programs in the inner suburbs is sparse, and those that are available are bursting at the seams to accommodate the 45 per cent increase in visits since 2008. The spaces that already exist, especially those in the city core, are at risk of being lost or are already disappearing due to rising rents, redevelopment, and relocation. Some examples include:
- A food bank in Flemingdon Park, struggling to pay its rent, having to operate out of an inaccessible basement despite being located in an area with high levels of poverty;
- A pre-natal program serving pregnant mothers and infants in Parkdale that can only serve a fraction of the number of families it could serve previously due to being relocated to a much smaller space;
- A food bank in east Toronto being closed due to high rent.
Despite being an essential source of food for tens of thousands of Torontonians, Daily Bread and food programs operate largely outside of government and do not receive government funding. On its own, Daily Bread moves about $22 million worth of food on a budget of about $7 million, relying primarily on private donations from individuals and corporations. The impact of this money could be far greater if the City could assist in increasing the availability of space, either through its own properties, or helping to make connections with those that have access to space. This would enable the City to play an essential role in helping to reduce hunger, and do so at little, if any, cost. A key recommendation from the coalition – ensure programs have access to schools and other facilities – requires no cost, but would need strategic coordination and planning, and consultation with communities in need.
Providing support for small infrastructure
“If you don’t have proper storage it doesn’t matter how much food you have.” Food Bank Coordinator
Where many local food banks face serious financial constraints is the ability to afford the infrastructure requirements necessary to run food programs that meet the needs of local communities. As one participant in Daily Bread’s consultation mentioned, if you don’t have proper storage facilities, it doesn’t matter how much food you have. In addition to the lack of space mentioned previously, many food programs have difficulty affording and repairing the large commercial freezers that are necessary for storing perishable food. Another recommendation from the coalition asked for “3 to 5 more staff to support the development of community food hubs and funds for small infrastructure.” Support of the infrastructure that already exists in Toronto could include that a granting process be made available for food programs which could provide the capital and core funding for essential equipment like large freezers, and other infrastructure improvements.
A Vision of Ending Hunger in our City
The City of Toronto has produced a bold strategy to reduce poverty in our City. In order to make a real impact in helping to reduce hunger for our vulnerable residents, strong investments have to be made in it so that people can better afford to purchase their own food. In addition, new approaches to coordination and planning have to take into account the extensive network of community-based food organizations that already exist. Daily Bread, and its vast agency network that helps feed Toronto, work to provide nutritious food for thousands of people who cannot afford it. With a strong financial commitment to the Poverty Reduction Strategy from the City, we can make a real difference in ending poverty and hunger in our communities.