We talk to a social worker who witnessed Toronto’s food bank crisis

Photo In March, with temperatures reaching 20 C (68 F), more than 16,000 food bank users in Toronto came through the doors of a local agency, prompting social worker Hayley Vander Vonn to describe…

We talk to a social worker who witnessed Toronto’s food bank crisis

Photo

In March, with temperatures reaching 20 C (68 F), more than 16,000 food bank users in Toronto came through the doors of a local agency, prompting social worker Hayley Vander Vonn to describe it as “a real crisis.”

She’s right: The number of Torontonians using emergency food has jumped 13 per cent this year — to an all-time high.

The Humber Community Services Centre has served nearly 150,000 people in 2018, more than 10,000 people a month.

How common is the need in Canada’s biggest city?

In 2015, 29 per cent of Torontonians were living in poverty. It’s not unreasonable to expect that number has bumped up by at least two per cent, to 35 per cent.

Researchers are currently working to determine the exact number of Torontonians living in poverty.

Between October, 2017 and September, 2018, the city has served 204,865 people — about 5,800 per month.

As concerns grow about poverty, it’s becoming clear that the issue isn’t a one-time occurrence or triggered by a bad flu season. Toronto’s roots and struggles are deep.

It wasn’t too long ago that strict rules prevented people from asking for help at a grocery store: people could only buy bread at a certain price, or a certain amount, even if they knew they couldn’t afford the bill. The city also outlawed begging in the streets.

In 2015, Employment and Social Development Canada estimated that more than 850,000 Canadians were living below the low-income cutoff, which includes anyone making less than $23,700 a year for a family of two.

This figure is generally estimated to be lower, based on a university-led study.

The release of the Statistics Canada data coincides with a growing movement to have more affordable housing. It may seem hard to believe, but Toronto has only 65,000 affordable housing units, while Vancouver has 469,000.

In the past decade, the number of households struggling to keep up with bills has increased 12 per cent in Toronto, more than double the average Canada-wide increase.

Across Ontario, the highest increases can be found in key provincial housing markets — York Region, Hamilton, Mississauga and Kitchener.

The work doesn’t stop with emergency food banks, though. Experts say Canada’s middle class is facing significant job security issues. If job security is at risk, it’s likely that everyone in that household is at risk of falling through the cracks.

If this is the case, won’t we become more vulnerable over time?

Some experts have already started asking this question, but there is no quick fix.

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