“We need to figure out a way to fund agencies to ensure that people have the nourishment that they need…It’s a shame that this is something that is needed, but it is. And we need to do our best as a city to find space for them.”
— Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina)
Article from the Toronto Star, Tues. Jan 2, 2018
In its pre-budget submission to the City, the Toronto Food Policy Council made several recommendations to be considered in the 2018 Poverty Reduction Strategy work plan, including requesting the availability for space for a range of food related programming1.
Daily Bread Food Bank echoes this recommendation, in particular the recommendation to enable access to space in Toronto Community Housing properties for food banks and other food programming available to the wider community.
In many cases, accessing suitable space from which to distribute food can be as challenging as keeping up with the demand for food. In its commitment to its Poverty Reduction Strategy and creating a more fair and equitable city, the City of Toronto can use the 2018 budget as a recognition of the rapidly growing numbers of people struggling with hunger by providing access to its surplus space from which to run community led food programs such as food banks, at little or no extra cost to the city.
Demand for food banks in Toronto is growing rapidly, but available spaces from which to operate them are shrinking
From April 2016 to March 2017, there were a total of 990,970 client visits to Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank member agencies. This is the highest annual client visit number in Toronto since 2010, when the effects of the 2008 recession hit Torontonians with full force. This is 9 per cent higher than 2016, and 24 per cent higher than 2008.
The surge in demand has not only affected food banks’ ability to provide food, but in some cases their ability to accommodate growing numbers of clients in program spaces. Last year, 22 per cent of Daily Bread agencies reported they had difficulty in providing adequate waiting room space to accommodate people accessing the program.
The majority of Daily Bread’s 130 member agencies run their food programs in local churches and community centres, and the space available to accommodate clients is varied: some have large open spaces in churches, while others have their clients line in hallways, stairwells or outside. Challenges related to space include property maintenance and accessibility issues in the case of church-run programs, and lack of space and rent increases for some community centres. As Toronto continues to gentrify and available space with which to run food programs becomes more expensive and precarious, more neighbourhood food banks across the city will struggle accommodating clients in the future as the need continues to grow.
When does access to space for food programs in Toronto become an equity issue?
The Scarborough story
The most recent census data shows that census tracts with the highest concentrations of people living with low income, as well as highest percentages of visible minorities, are in the northern and outer reaches of the city. Coincidentally, those are also the areas where there are not enough food banks to keep up with the demand; existing food banks are also located so far apart many clients can`t afford transportation to get to them. Additionally, the spaces in which these programs operate are themselves vulnerable to rapidly rising rent costs.
For Daily Bread member agencies, the area of the city where the issue of space is of particular concern is Scarborough.
“Currently we do not pay rent, however [the housing provider] is considering implementing a rent or utility cost for commercial tenants like us. We have significantly outgrown this space but with no rent in our budget, we are unable to move to a more suitable location.”
Food bank in Scarborough
A hot real estate market is making it increasingly difficult for some food programs to either find or maintain a suitable space from which to operate.
While some food programs are run by faith-based groups who have space provided free of charge by the sponsoring organization, others, such as those located in larger community centres or public housing units, have to pay for the space. This is especially an issue in north and east Scarborough which, compared to the city core, have less “’faith-based infrastructure” such as church space, which means food programs have to find other space that they can afford.
Food banks in Toronto, including those operated by multiservice centres, do not receive government funding and mostly rely on private donations. As affordable space in Toronto becomes more challenging to find, many food banks, including those in Scarborough, will be in an increasingly vulnerable position to maintain their operations, despite rapidly increasing need.
Of the seven wards in Scarborough that have Daily Bread member agency food banks:
- Five have shown increases of over 10 per cent in client visits in the last year alone.
- Wards 39 and 40, both in the Agincourt area of north Scarborough, have seen increases of over 70 per cent, the highest increases in the city.
Food banks in Scarborough report seeing high numbers of recent newcomers, including convention refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria. Many are paying on average 82 per cent of their income on rent and utilities, and have very little left over for essentials like food.
And it’s not just food banks that struggle to find or maintain space to operate in these areas. Other kinds of food-related programming that can be essential tools of community development for low income or newcomer communities, such as urban farming or community kitchens, also face ongoing roadblocks in finding space to run programs.
Many would agree that being able to access food is a human right. However lack of adequate income supports, alongside diminishing space from which to help low income communities, mean that this right is becoming increasingly out of reach for too many.
Help create a more equitable city: enable food banks to have more access to city-owned space.
By identifying and facilitating access to space of City owned properties for food access, the City can demonstrate its commitment to its Poverty Reduction Strategy, as well as equity and human rights.
1 “That City staff identify spaces for use by community-led initiatives (both growing spaces, and office, program and cooking spaces), based on current inventories of surplus space, and that staff focus on NIAs in identifying these spaces.” Letter from the Toronto Food Policy Council to the Executive Committee of Toronto City Council, November 27, 2017.