September 21, 2015 10:40 pm

Toronto’s sky-high housing costs shifts hunger, poverty to the suburbs: report

Food banks have seen an increase in the suburbs and a decrease in the downtown core. Cindy Pom explains why.

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TORONTO — The face of hunger and poverty in the region has undergone a “geographic shift”–even as Toronto’s downtown core prospers, demand for food banks has shot up 45 per cent in the city’s inner suburbs.

The Daily Bread Food Bank released its annual report on Monday, Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Two Cities, which profiles food insecurity in Canada’s largest city.

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The release of this report coincides with Hunger Awareness Week, a cross-Canada initiative to shed light on the solvable problem of food insecurity in Canada.

READ MORE: Going hungry: Digesting Canada’s food security problem

Since 2008, food bank demand in the old city of Toronto, York and East York dropped 16 per cent. Meanwhile, ramped-up demand is being felt most acutely in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough.

Demand for food bank services rose during the recession and stayed high. Toronto food banks had 896,9000 visits between April 2014 and March 2015, the study states. That’s 12 per cent higher than 2008.

The 200-plus food banks Daily Bread works with provide clients with two to three days of food, up to four times a month. Last year, the report says, Daily Bread’s warehouse distributed 8.3 million pounds of food through its member agencies

READ MORE: Parents must both make $18.52 per hour to afford life in Toronto: report

As Toronto’s real estate market explodes, many poorer people have had to move to outer areas of the city to find affordable housing.

And as housing gets more expensive, that leaves less money left over for food.

“We are seeing families facing an increasingly difficult time in affording the city’s rapidly rising rents, where coming to a food bank is the only way some can keep a roof over their heads,” the report states.

The report said that 32 per cent of food bank users are children, from infants to 17-year-olds.

A survey of more than 1,000 Toronto food banks clients earlier this year found 35 per cent had gone an entire day without food; 16 per cent said their children went hungry at least once a week. Fifty-five per cent reported giving up a meal in the previous three months in order to pay for rent, their phone bill, transportation or utilities.

READ MORE: ‘Distorted’ home prices in Vancouver, Toronto push market higher

“I worked all my life,” said Terry Stitchman, 58, who spoke with Global News as he visited the North York Harvest Food Bank Monday. “I’d rather not be using the food bank, I’d rather be employed.”

Stitchman said he receives $656 a month in assistance and pays $482 per month for rent. Factor in other life necessities and food doesn’t always make the list.

“The government has to realize that a single person needs more money to live on,” he said. “Social services just doesn’t pay a single male enough money to live on.”

The report states that 48 per cent of food bank users are single and live on their own.

Stitchman is permitted to visit his local food bank twice a month. He said sometimes he goes to bed hungry, and it’s not uncommon for him to eat only one meal a day. He believes that more community housing is the key to reducing the need for food banks in Toronto.

“You know, we’d be able to afford food.”

Long-term food bank dependence

It also appears people are using food banks for a longer period of time: In 2008 the average length of use was one year; by 2015, the average length has doubled to two years.

This is particularly true for people who find themselves dependent on social assistance for long periods of time: 34 per cent of food insecure people in Toronto are surviving on disability payments, which have not kept pace with cost of living, the report states.

“Many clients with disabilities have little choice but to receive help from a food bank as a long-term budgeting strategy, rather than a short-term form of assistance.”

Immigrant shift

Pricier downtown housing is pushing new Canadians to other areas of the country, the report states. In 2008, 40 per cent of food bank clients had been in Canada for four years or less. That number dropped to 25 per cent in 2015.

With files from Cindy Pom

© 2015 Shaw Media

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