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Toronto's food banks are at 'crisis levels,' say authors of 2022 Who's Hungry report

Volunteers work at the Bathurst/Finch Community Food Space in Toronto, on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Lupul Volunteers work at the Bathurst/Finch Community Food Space in Toronto, on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Lupul

Toronto is in the midst of an “urban food security crisis,” says the CEO of Canada’s largest food bank.

Speaking with CP24 Monday morning, Neil Heatherington, of south Etobicoke’s Daily Bread Food Bank, said prior to April 2020, his organization saw 60,000 client visits a month, a number he said doubled during the pandemic. Last month, 190,000 people sought help from the Daily Bread, Hetherington said, adding by next summer that monthly number could hit a quarter of a million.

“We are in a crisis and the difficulty is we also know the way out of this crisis. We just need to make sure that we have the leadership and the actions to be able to make those changes,” he said.

Today, the Daily Bread and North York Harvest food banks, released their annual Who’s Hungry 2022 report, which showed that over the last 12 months, visits to Toronto’s food banks hit 1.99 million. If demand continues at that rate, that figure is expected to top more than 2 million by year’s end.

The report, which analyzed data from April 2021 to March 2022, found that food bank visits in Toronto were up by 16 per cent year over year, from 1.45 million to 1.68 million.

“Month after month, we keep seeing the impact of insufficient incomes, combined with inflation and rising costs of living, lead to record-breaking numbers,” Hetherington said in a Nov. 4 news release.

“The need for food banks is at crisis levels with no signs of slowing down. Moreover, food banks are seeing more new clients each month, and those visiting are experiencing more severe levels of food insecurity. On average, they are also younger and more likely to be employed.”

The report found food bank clients’ incomes dropped in the past year, despite more of them having a job.

Just over 80 per cent of clients who are working – albeit often precariously with low wages and little to no benefits – are living in deep poverty, which is less than $19,000 a year for a single person.

The median annual income for food bank clients in this city is just $12,732, which is almost 50 per cent below Canada’s official poverty line of $24,720 annually for singles and down by $540 from 2021.

According to the report, clients have a median of $8.01 left per person, per day for food and all other necessities after paying their rent and utilities. That number drops to $7.75 per person per day for those who are racialized, while people who arrived in the country within the past year and accessed a food bank were left with just $3.81 a day on average. In 2021, the Who’s Hungry report found food bank clients in Toronto were a bit better off having $9.17 a day after paying for their housing and bills.

The Who’s Hungry report also found that rent is eating up a huge portion of most clients’ incomes with almost 20 per cent saying they have zero money left over after paying for housing. Eighty-seven per cent of clients said they cannot afford to eat and keep a roof over their head, which puts them at real risk of becoming homeless.

Social and economic isolation is another notable experience for many food bank clients, the report found, with almost 40 per cent reporting that they don’t have people in their lives to count on in times of need. That number is roughly five times more than the general population.

Furthermore, the number of seniors accessing food banks is on the rise from one in 10 to now six in 10. Almost 30 per cent of seniors said they sometimes/often don’t have enough to eat. Close to ninety percent of senior clients reported living in housing they consider unaffordable.

“I can’t afford three meals a day because of cost,” one respondent said.

“If it were not for the food bank, I would not be able to make it. It would be 8 to 10 days without food per month.”

Ryan Noble, of North York Harvest Food Bank, said poverty begets food insecurity.

“While food banks play a vital role in the lives of thousands of Torontonians, they cannot reduce poverty,” he said.

“We need bold, systemic changes which require governments at all levels to act.”

The report’s authors are calling for guaranteed income security, the elimination of systemic poverty, solutions to Toronto’s housing affordability crisis, and mitigation of the steep increases in the cost of living.

Hetherington said he hopes that people will read the report and “have a conversation about it at the dinner table tonight” and make the decision to advocate for change by contacting local elected officials and telling them “today is the day to implement your poverty reduction strategy.” Top Stories

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