Rising food insecurity in Toronto linked to housing crisis, immigration challenges, and income disparities, reports Feed Scarborough

Feed Scarborough operates six food bank locations including Cliffside, Markham, Rouge Park, Kennedy-Eglinton. This location on St. Clair Avenue East, just east of Kennedy Road, includes a community farm built by volunteers and staff. Produce from the farm goes to the food bank's different locations as well as to several healthy meal programs. Photo: Susan Legge

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A study by the Scarborough Food Security Initiative (Feed Scarborough) shows concerning signs of wear on Toronto’s system.

The report reiterates a now familiar story of “inadequate housing, infrastructure needs around population growth, and income disparities” which have intertwined to create a climate of food insecurity.

“Every day, numerous individuals face the burden of not having enough to eat, and their struggles are multi-faceted,” said Feed Scarborough Founder and Executive Director Suman Roy in a statement. “The lack of affordable and stable housing disrupts the foundation upon which food security can be built, leaving vulnerable populations even more exposed to hunger.”

According to the report, three quarters of Feed Scarborough users are newcomers that have been in Canada for less than a year which paints a picture that “immigrants are struggling to meet their most basic needs” upon arrival in Canada.

This data is corroborated by Bluffs Food Bank’s (BFB) Lead Volunteer Anna Heyd who told Beach Metro Community News that the organization, located at Warden Avenue and Kingston Road, has seen a 60 per cent increase in visitors this year as opposed to 2022.

BFB services a different area than Feed Scarborough, but its records confirm a growing trend among Toronto food banks.

“Approximately 70 per cent of our new clients are immigrant families,” said Heyd.

The Canadian government is aiming to bring in 1,450,000 new permanent residents by 2025. It is expected that a large fraction of the incoming population will opt to start a new life in Canada’s most populous city, Toronto.

“When I immigrated to Canada with the hope of safety and opportunity, I, too, was faced with the crippling effects of food security,” said Roy.

Suman Roy, Feed Scarborough Founder and Executive Director. Photo: supplied.

Roy acknowledges that immigration is “key for Canada and for those who strive to achieve more,” but there appears to be a lack of infrastructure to provide the basic needs for Toronto’s incoming residents.

Feed Scarborough’s study, which surveyed 676 of the 10,145 clients between May and June 2023, concluded that there has been a 112 per cent increase in visits to their food banks from the previous year.

In June 2022, there were 9,684 visits, however, just a year later the food banks it operates had 20,590 visitors.

With a living wage in the Greater Toronto Area of $23.15 (4.8 per cent higher than 2021) and a minimum wage of $15.50 – coupled with an annual rent growth of 22.4 per cent in 2022 – it is easy to see that many immigrants and asylum seekers have a mountain to climb in order to become comfortable residents in Canada.

The Feed Scarborough report recommends that the government of Ontario increases the minimum wage to $24.35 by 2025. It also recommends that the federal government extends the Canada Summer Jobs Program to international students.

With two-thirds of the surveyed food banks’ clientele identifying as students – many as international students – Feed Scarborough says that an extension of the program would provide foreigners with “equal opportunity to gain experience, and increase income potential in line with domestic students” which in turn “strengthens our workforce and builds our economy.”

The report also takes aim at the additional licensing examinations internationally accredited immigrants must face in order to break through barriers which fail to recognize their foreign credentials.

For example, foreign students are mandated to pay over $250 for the English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) examinations. The report suggests that individuals who fail the test on the first attempt should not be required to pay a second time before retaking it due to their already strained financial state as new immigrants.

There are many factors that have played into Toronto’s food insecurity. But Feed Scarborough’s report summarizes the recent dependence on food banks as primarily a housing problem.

This is in line with Daily Bread’s Who’s Hungry Report (2022) which states that 87 per cent of food bank clients live in unaffordable housing, paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

Furthermore, the report highlights that the 58,682 units built in Ontario between 2019 and 2022 are not covered under Ontario’s rent control as Ontario’s 2.5 per cent rent control only applies to units built before 2018.

According to the Feed Scarborough report, 71.9 per cent of its food bank clients are unemployed.

It is no surprise that one of two main reasons why people seek food bank assistance, according to Heyd, is that rent is too expensive – the other reason being that clients have “little to no income.”

For more information or to donate to Feed Scarborough, visit https://scarboroughfoodsecurityinitiative.com/

— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.


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