More Hamilton seniors using food banks and it's just the 'tip of the iceberg': advocate

Hamilton has seen a 19.1 per cent increase in food bank usage among seniors since 2017.
On a typical day, 33 seniors visit food banks in Hamilton like the Good Shepherd Venture Centre Market Place pictured here. (Michelle LePage/CBC)

A new report showing a drastic increase in food bank use by Hamilton seniors may just be the "tip of the iceberg" when it comes to food insecurity among the city's older adults, according to one community advocate.

The report presented at the Emergency and Community Services Committee on Thursday shows a 19.1 per cent increase in senior use since 2017. The increase in Hamilton is higher than the 10 per cent increase across the province. On a typical day, 33 of the 700 people who visit a food bank in Hamilton are seniors.

"We see a lot of seniors go without food," said Judit Zsoldos, who sits on the board of directors for Hamilton Council of Aging, a charitable organization that advocates for senior needs. "We have minimum 50 seniors who are in need of a food bank but most cannot get to the food bank."

City staffers say they have been told the primary increase in senior's food bank usage is related to a decline in income from pensions, personal savings and government benefits, which are not keeping pace with inflation. They also acknowledge the number of seniors having trouble getting food is higher than the food bank usage data shows.

Judit Zsoldos is a director on the Hamilton Council on Aging. (Supplied)

That's because seniors also face additional challenges when it comes to accessing charitable food services, says Zsoldos. Challenges include affording transportation to get to a food bank, not being physically strong enough to carry groceries and not being able to go online to find the nearest food bank.

"These are just for clients who are cognitively intact and can put a plan together: 'I need to go to food bank to get some food.' If you have a cognitive impairment, intellectual disability, mental health issues — that's added layers of challenges," Zsoldos said.

One thing Zsoldos would like to see is more delivery options to get groceries to seniors. While Meals on Wheels programs exist in Hamilton and the Hamilton Council on Aging and Catholic Family Services have been able to deliver food to some clients, Zsoldos says there are not enough resources.

The city is in the process of updating its Age Friendly Plan and is working to make it easier for seniors to get around, said spokesperson Jessica Chase. Officials will also be consulting residents and community partners to figure out how to ensure seniors have better access to food.

In 2018, Hamilton provided $174,295 to seven community organizations that run food and meal programs for seniors.


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