Isabel Teotonio, Toronto Star, March 3, 2011
The number of malnourished and chronically hungry people in Canada is “growing at an alarming rate,” according to a report to be released Thursday.
And people should be able to buy their own food rather than rely on charity, the report says.
“Immediate changes are needed in provincial and federal income security programs in order to ensure that all people have the resources required to buy nutritious food,” according to the Recession Relief Coalition’s report.
Titled Hunger Crisis, it follows a public inquiry the coalition organized in late November 2010. A panel of experts heard evidence from social service providers, researchers studying the issue and people who have experienced hunger.
The panel, which included a physician, chef and housing advocate, suggested raising social assistance rates and emphasized the responsibility of businesses to pay their employees a living wage.
Sheryl Lindsay, executive director of Sistering, has noticed “a dramatic increase” in the number of people using the drop-in centre’s food program. When the agency moved to its current west-end location four years ago, about 100 meals were being served each day. That number is now about 200 meals.
“We’re just one agency in the city and anybody who is trying to provide food has seen this explosion in numbers,” Lindsay said.
Last year, there were nearly one million visits to Toronto’s food banks, a 14 per cent increase over 2009.
And in March 2010, food banks helped a record 867,948 people across the country, according to Food Banks Canada.
The panel developed 27 recommendations clustered around 6 themes:
• Raise incomes/invest in income security programs
• Increase access to adequate affordable housing
• Consider access to good, nutritious food in community and urban planning
• Improve access to and quality of emergency food programs
• Recognize poverty and hunger as major risk factors for physical and mental health issues
• Respect human dignity in eliminating hunger.
And this in a country that is considered "wealthy" compared to many of the world's poorest countries. It is an issue about which all Canadians should be ashamed, when we have the natural resources and the national income and the required information for planning in both housing and nourishment needs, as well as the insight into programs that develop and sustain a responsible approach to both earning an income and feeding our families in a manner that promotes enhanced goal-setting and their achievement.
Like so many other important issues, the country does not see this as a national emergency, as a national disgrace partly because except for the occasional report like this one, the issue hides in the back shed of most of the minds of those in leadership. It does not have a face, a poster child, a vigorous publicity campaign and a political party (or parties) willing to pick up the "ball" and run with it.
We are more enamoured with issues of poverty in the third world, where, admittedly, the need is one of survival. However, as the crunch of spiked food costs combines with high unemployment numbers and the transformation in the kinds of skills needed in the labour market, with a culture of corporate disdain for the hungry, the sick and the illiterate and undereducated, this issue is not going away.
Little corners like this one try to bring the issue to light; there are a few national voices like Carol Goar of the Toronto Star, who regularly points a search light into the darkness of human suffering in our own country, but for the most part, the subject is not making the rounds in the cocktail parties in the major cities.
It simply has no political "sex appeal;" it does not arrest and command the human imagination; it does not leap to the top of the agenda of the political class; everyone has grown up in schools and towns knowing about those who live on the "other side" of the tracks, "across the river" or "down in the ghetto" and we have become immune to the details of the lives of those who dwell in such neighbourhoods.
We all know the litany of implications: lower school grades, higher drop-out rates, increased numbers of unemployed, higher health care costs, higher social and police costs, higher insurance costs, higher incidence of illicit drug use and abuse, increased numbers of alcohol and chemical dependents, lower pride in our communities, lower expectations of our political leaders, etc....etc...etc.. This is not rocket science!
Isn't there a television show in the U.S. in which rich people try to get by living like the poor, only to find that the experience changes them (the rich) more than it does the poor.
Perhaps, as a national strategy, we could all be given $10 and sent out on the street to live for at least a weekend, trying to stay warm, and nourished and secure and positive and willing to contribute to the society.
Perhaps, a national consciousness that actually believes the fact that attention to this issue would significantly reduce the costs of so many other of our budgetary drains. And we could begin to see the forest the includes the trees.