Neil Hetherington, CEO, Daily Bread Food Bank, deputed today in front of the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee to bring forward recommendations to tackle poverty and food insecurity.
Last year, Toronto food banks saw the highest number of visits, by far, on record, with 1.45 million visits.
These are extraordinary times, and the City of Toronto has taken numerous steps to advance housing affordability, inclusionary zoning, the mental health crisis intervention pilots, and employment services transformations among others. The City has also mobilized a coordinated response to the ongoing crisis of the pandemic. These are all examples of the very concrete ways some of the most vulnerable in the city depend on the actions and decisions of City Council. They are also examples of what is possible when we collectively lean into a crisis with empathy and justice.
City Council has an important opportunity to embed these values into the 2022 budget by prioritizing the following three actions:
- Continue to embed food access coordination into the City’s Emergency Planning, by working with your nonprofit partners so that we are ready to respond. This includes material supports such as the continued provision of Personal Protective Equipment, logistical support and community space.
- Continue to increase investments in tenant protections, eviction prevention, and affordable housing. Housing security is one of the best ways to ensure people have enough money to feed themselves, yet 80% of food bank clients who live in private market rental buildings are in core housing need.
- Fully implement the Fair Pass Discount program without further delay. After paying for rent and utilities, most food bank clients have less than $10 to cover all their other costs. The $6.40 return fare they might spend on a transit ride means less for food, medicine, and other critical needs.
These times are unprecedented. While every household has been affected by COVID-19, the City’s own data shows low-income and racialized communities have been disproportionately impacted by the ongoing health and economic effects of the pandemic. Our systems and structures do not create the conditions where everyone can thrive.
This was also a year when Daily Bread expanded to meet growing community needs. We opened 22 new food programs when, normally, we open one or two in a year. To meet this heightened need, we relied on donations from community members and nearly 490,000 hours from volunteers (which is equivalent to 270 full-time year-round jobs). Toronto residents stepped up for each other in this time of need.
We heard a deep desire for a city where residents can access nourishing food and live with the basic dignity of a safe and affordable home in a community they love. Every day we serve community members who face the impacts of systemic racism and discrimination; lack of affordable housing; erosion of permanent, secure employment; and a wildly insufficient social safety net.
That is why it is critical that the City sustains our efforts to address the immediate needs that low-income households face. At the same time, we need to build system resiliency through structural change, an approach grounded in human rights and a recognition of the dignity we are all accorded.
Listen to the full deputation below: