Report illustrates food bank use spike to over 1 million visits

    Food bank clients going into debt and selling assets to pay for food
    and rent

    TORONTO, June 18 /CNW/ - Government programs are failing to support
people ravaged by the recession, according to Daily Bread Food Bank's latest
Who's Hungry: Profile of Hunger in the GTA. Client visits to GTA food banks
over the past year exceeded 1 million for the first time ever. Total client
visits were 1,030,568, a rise of 8% over last year. More disturbingly, the
increase in client visits in the first three months of 2009 averaged 17%.
    The spike in food bank use is directly related to the current recession.
Over half of new clients surveyed accessed a food bank for economic reasons
due to job loss (35%), reduced hours at work (6%), or had no current source of
income and were living on savings (11%).
    The report notes that the two key government programs intended to support
people through job loss, Employment Insurance (EI) and social assistance, have
severely tightened eligibility rules over the past two decades. Both programs
are inadequately assisting people through these hard times. Only 17% of new
food bank clients in the GTA who lost jobs are receiving EI.
    "The Government of Ontario owns this problem," said Michael Oliphant,
director of research and communications at Daily Bread. "Social assistance has
strict asset tests that require families to liquidate life savings and
retirement funds before accessing the program. This means the 11% of new
clients living off assets will have to become destitute before receiving
government support, which will force them into a hole that will be almost
impossible to climb out of and place a longer-term strain on the system."
    The report further finds that GTA's food bank clients are taking on debt
or selling assets to pay the bills since they have no access to adequate
government supports. The majority (77%) are going into debt to pay for basic
needs such as rent and food. A further 54% of GTA food bank clients have had
to sell assets or property in order to pay the bills.
    "The forms of debt people are forced to incur are often high risk. For
example, our research showed that 19% of clients owed back rent," said Gail
Nyberg, Daily Bread's executive director. "This carries with it the risk of
eviction and homelessness. In addition, 11% of the food bank population
accessed payday loans with extremely high interest rates. This goes to show
that desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures."
    As in previous years, housing affordability is a significant issue
affecting the broadest base of food bank clients. To address this, Daily Bread
is advocating for a housing benefit that pays an average of $119 per month for
low-income families. This benefit would have a positive impact on income
security for virtually all food bank clients and would assist with the high
cost of housing.
    "The average family accessing a food bank pays 76% of their income on
rent," said Nyberg. "People paying so much of their income on rent have next
to nothing left to pay for other basic necessities, such as food, clothing for
the children and transportation. Their day to day reality is about trying to
find their next meal."
    Who's Hungry 2009 is based on data collected from Daily Bread's Annual
Survey of People Accessing Emergency Food Banks. About 1975 surveys were
conducted from February to April 2009. From these the sample size was 1,924.
Forty-nine food banks in Toronto and the GTA participated, and face-to-face
interviews were conducted by over 100 trained volunteers. Surveys were
translated into ten languages to obtain information from newcomer populations
who do not speak English. Research is an integral component of Daily Bread
Food Bank's fight to end hunger in our communities. Who's Hungry reflects
Daily Bread's commitment to creating social change to reduce poverty through
research, education and advocacy.

For further information:

For further information: Gabrielle Chackal, Communications, T: (416)
203-0050 ext. 238, M: (416) 450-2196, E:

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