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ROAD HOME: Broken system pushing food bank usage to all-time high

October 17, 2023

Posted on: October 17th, 2023. By: Michael Braithwaite,, Original Article.

In this month’s column, Blue Door CEO says the answer to addressing food insecurity lies in affordable housing

A record-breaking number of individuals and families are accessing food banks across Canada. While we should absolutely support our local food banks in full force, the answer to food insecurity does not stop at more food.

The answer lies in affordable housing.

How does affordable housing connect to food insecurity? When people can afford housing, by finding (truly, like a needle in a haystack) affordable housing or earning a livable income, they can then afford to purchase food and not rely on food banks.

The current recommended threshold an individual should be spending on housing is no more than 30 per cent of the household income. Currently, with the high cost of housing, most individuals and families are spending anywhere from 50 to 100 per cent of their total household income on housing, leaving little to no money for food, transportation, and various other monthly expenses.

According to the annual Who’s Hungry report from Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank, the average monthly income for individuals accessing a food bank is $1,061 after rent and utilities, leaving an average of $8.01 for food per day.

For newcomers to Canada and racialized groups, the numbers are even lower, hovering around $3 left per person per day for food. In 2022, it was estimated that there were more than two million visits to food banks in Canada, and that number has only continued to increase.

If there was any question about the relationship between income and food bank use, all we must do is look back at the pandemic. When COVID-19 hit and the federal government provided a monthly stipend of $2,000 to Canadians in need, food bank usage was much lower. Fast forward to 2023, when housing, food and gas costs have skyrocketed, while incomes have remained stagnant, and we see food bank usage at an all-time high.

Approximately 33 per cent of food bank users reported employment was their main source of income, a number that has doubled year over year, showing it’s becoming increasingly difficult for many people who are employed to keep up with the costs of living.

What’s the answer?

While I hope you will give generously to food banks this fall and holiday season, and, of course, year-round, we need to tackle the root of the problem, the systemic issues that are causing the rise in food bank usage.

With social assistance support rates averaging lower than they were in 1995, we need the provincial government to bring about radical changes to the system. Imagine trying to secure housing, and feed and take care of yourself, with $733 per month from Ontario Works or if you received Ontario Disability Support Program assistance at $1,308 per month.

It’s not possible.

The system is broken and needs to be fixed.

In this month’s column, Blue Door CEO says the answer to addressing food insecurity lies in affordable housing

To fix the system, more deeply affordable housing needs to be built and rent subsidies need to be increased so people can meet the 30 per cent threshold of housing to income.

Organizations like Blue Door are working hard to improve the system. Over the past three years, we’ve worked with partners, funders and the community to create more than 40 new rentals geared to our most vulnerable. Other York Region groups like 360ºkids, Community Living Central York, Yellow Brick House, LOFT, and Salvation Army have done the same.

To fix the system, we need more programs, like Blue Door’s Construct, that help lift people into the trades, where they can immediately make a living wage and help to build the affordable housing we are lacking.

How can you help?

Continuing to donate food is a great option, but you can also reach out to your local provincial and federal members of Parliament to push them to work toward changing these systems that are pushing food bank usage to record highs.

Use your right to vote to hold politicians accountable, to fix systems, and to be part of the solution.

Donate to charities like Blue Door and others so we can build the housing so desperately needed and support our community’s most vulnerable.

It’s just a little food for thought.