‘Very critical’: Halifax university students returning to class with empty stomachs, wallets

Click to play video: 'Food bank usage on campus expected to rise'
Food bank usage on campus expected to rise
As students head back to university campuses, some are facing tough choices when it comes to their finances. The use of on-campus food banks in Halifax are expected to peak this semester. Zack Power reports. – Sep 5, 2023

At Dalhousie University in Halifax, the campus is as busy as it gets. Students returning for their first day of class for the fall semester are coming into class with a full backpack, but not a full wallet.

The campus’ student food bank has been open throughout the summer, aiming to feed students who are trying to make ends meet.

The food bank has been using resources from Feed Nova Scotia to feed those students. The food bank had nearly 300 students a week come through its doors, with a spike in the number of students expected for the fall semester.

Misha Davies-Cole carefully re-arranged some of their stock as students rushed to their first day of classes. Serving the students as of late has become extremely difficult, given a lack of donations.

Students coming through the doors with high hopes of getting things like eggs, bread and meats are often met with a can of soup.

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The organization has rarely gotten enough milk to handle the needs from the students.

“It’s very critical,” said food bank manager Davies-Cole on Tuesday

“Right now, I’m seeing students coming to the food bank because they had to make a decision between rent and food. Coming to this food bank has allowed them to pay rent.”

Many of the students using the food bank are international students coming to Canada for the first time. The food bank has noted an increase in students told that coming to Canada wouldn’t become a financial burden.

One international student coming from Rajkot, India, came to Canada recently to study at Dalhousie. The burden of high prices of groceries, coupled with heightened rent, has forced him to look for work outside of school.

Nova Scotia had the highest welcome rate of the three Maritime provinces, with 12,644 immigrants arriving in the province in 2022.

“I’ve applied to 25 places and haven’t had a single call,” said international student Jeed Njani.

“Since the day I arrived here, I’ve definitely found everything so costly.”

The Bank of Canada has aggressively raised interest rates since March 2022 to clamp down on decades-high inflation, including raises at its last two meetings in June and July in response to a hot economy.

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The central bank’s key interest rate stands at 5.0 per cent following back-to-back increases.

Overall inflation cooled to 3.4 per cent in May from a recent peak of 8.1 per cent in June 2022, but the Bank of Canada’s policymakers have expressed concern that a tight labour market and a resilient economy could make it more difficult to tamp down inflation.

Student pressure has been experienced by not only international students but also domestic students.

One student from Toronto came to Halifax in hopes of finding a cheaper cost of living. For Ryan Drazlov, hopes of finding a roommate to live with didn’t work out, forcing him to move into a costly one-bedroom apartment.

“I didn’t expect it to be on the same level,” Drazlov told Global News on Tuesday.

“My solo place is not affordable. Currently, I’m paying $1,775 plus utilities. It’s on Oxford, and its crazy.”

According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Halifax has a one-per cent vacancy rate, with the average price of a two-bedroom apartment sitting at $1,449 per month.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has created a task force to help cope with finding new student housing.

The Halifax Higher Education Partnership estimates there are roughly 4,200 student housing spaces in the metro Halifax area, with more on the way.

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One of the universities on that board said that housing has become one of the biggest barriers for students in 2023. According to the president of the University of Kings College, universities in the Halifax area need to work collaboratively on finding a solution for university housing.

“Halifax universities know that they have to be a part of the problem,” told Bill Lahey, the president of the University of Kings College.

“There’s a student housing problem that is one that’s shared by all higher education.”

According to the university, they plan on converting old buildings into student accommodation, doubling their student beds to over 500.

— with files from the Canadian Press and Isaac Callan 

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