This map shows where food bank usage is highest in Ontario

Hamilton Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Thunder Bay-Atitokan are at the top of a new Feed Ontario report that breaks down food bank usage by riding.

Hit the play button to listen to the full interview

The three highest ridings for food bank usage are Hamilton Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Thunder Bay-Atikokan. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Hamilton Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Thunder Bay-Atitokan are at the top of a new Feed Ontario report that breaks down food bank usage by riding.

The study examines food bank use data from 2018. It found 507,977 Ontarians made a combined 3,033,970 visits to food banks last year, a three per cent increase over 2017.

The interactive map compares mean and median income, housing challenges and other riding-by-riding factors. Someone visits a food bank in Ontario every 10 seconds, says Amanda King, interim executive director of Feed Ontario.

The numbers should "set off alarm bells," said Joanne Santucci, executive director of Hamilton Food Share. "The hunger gap is growing and will continue to do so without a meaningful provincial anti-poverty strategy."

Here's a list of the 10 areas with the highest food bank usage:

  • Ottawa-Vanier: 15 of every 100 people use food banks, or 16,537 people making a total of 80,332 visits.
  • Hamilton Centre: 12 in 100, or 12,300 people making a total of 111,828
  • Thunder Bay-Atikokan: 11 in 100, or 8,276 and 27,488 visits.
  • Kitchener Centre: 10 in 100, or 10,411 and 72,825 visits.
  • Ottawa South: 9 in 100, or 10,533 people and 53,824 visits.
  • Windsor West: 9 in 100, or 10,564 people and 64,065 visits.
  • London-Fanshawe: 8 in 100, or 9,959 people and 45,348 visits.
  • Windsor-Tecumseh: 8 in 100, or 8,860 people and 51,543 visits.
  • Ottawa West-Nepean: 8 in 100, or 8,480 people and 45,145 visits.
  • London North Centre: 7 in 100, or 8,383 people and 34,765 visits.

CBC News talked to King about how she hopes this information is used.

Food bank map 6:39

Why do this? What does mapping food bank use in this kind of way tell us?

In the past, we have always looked at food bank use by food bank, looking at the number of individuals and how many times they were accessing those food banks. But when we would meet with individuals and elected officials, MPPs, policy makers, they often asked about the statistics specific to their riding and the challenges being faced by their constituents.

So we wanted to develop a map that looked at food bank use in this way to help inform those policy makers that hunger exists in every electoral riding, and to encourage the development of long-term evidence-based solutions to address hunger and poverty in the communities that they serve.

Any idea why it's higher in an area like Hamilton Centre?

Fundamentally, food bank use reflects a much larger issue, which is poverty. When we did this study, we looked at the mean and median incomes of all of those electoral ridings. We found that those with the highest level of food bank use also had some of the lowest household incomes. So fundamentally, individuals who are accessing food banks have insufficient income to afford all of their basic necessities each month, being rent, hydro and even food.

Does food bank use does inform decisions made by politicians who are representing these ridings?

That is our intention. We believe that solutions to poverty exist in good public policy. So our hope is that by showing all MPPs and elected officials that hunger exists in every single riding that they will work to find long-term solutions for their constituencies and the people that they serve. Alongside the map, we did put forward four key recommendations for change.

The first is to retain ODSP's current definition of disability. Last fall, it was announced that this definition or the eligibility criteria may change. Our hope is that they will retain the current definition of disability, which is inclusive of episodic illnesses like cancer and multiple sclerosis.

The second is to reduce the clawbacks on earned income under Ontario Works and ODSP from 75 per cent to 50 per cent for those trying to re-enter the workforce.

Third is to pass Bill 60, which would see the establishment of a social assistance research commission to advise on social assistance rates and policy directives. Fourth is to invest in affordable housing and improved economic opportunities for Ontarians.

When it comes to our current provincial government, has anything changed for food bank usage since Premier Doug Ford came into power?

It's still a bit early to tell. The announcements they made in the 2019 budget regarding changes to social assistance did cause us some concern. We are worried that it may make it even more difficult for individuals living in poverty to move out of poverty. But it is still early to tell. We will be releasing a new report in December 2019 that investigates that further. In the meantime, it is something we're monitoring every day.

What are you hoping to accomplish overall with the map? Are you hoping to to curb food bank usage?

Yes. Food banks always say that our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. Our hope is that this map will serve as a tool to inform those policy makers that food bank use exists in every riding. There's not one corner of the province, not one community, not one neighborhood, that isn't touched by hunger and food bank use, and to work toward those long term solutions.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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