Kitchener-Waterloo

Number of single people accessing food bank doubles in 5 years in Waterloo region

New numbers released Tuesday show single people make up nearly half of all food bank users in the country. The 'dramatic increase' of single people has The Food Bank of Waterloo Region officials rethinking how food is distributed in this area, food bank CEO Wendi Campbell says.

'Dramatic increase' has food bank rethinking how food is distributed, CEO Wendi Campbell says

Volunteers sort through items donated by the public in the warehouse of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. A new report says single people make up nearly half of food bank users across Canada and local officials say that's also the case in Waterloo region. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The number of single people accessing The Food Bank of Waterloo Region has doubled in just five years, food bank CEO Wendi Campbell says.

In 2018, the number of single individuals made up 49 per cent of food bank users in Waterloo region. That's slightly above the national average of 48 per cent, which was reported in Food Banks Canada's Hunger Count released Tuesday.

"We've seen a dramatic increase, which really has an impact on the programs and services that we have available here in the community," Campbell said during an interview on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition Tuesday morning.

Campbell says single individuals using the food bank's network of services may include people living with disabilities and seniors who live in rental units that don't have proper kitchens.

"So how they're able to access food to ensure that there's food on their table to make ends meet is different if they don't have a proper living situation in order to be able to prepare that food," Campbell said.

"It's really changing our conversation about how food is distributed in the community, the types of food product that's distributed, but also really digging a little deeper into how can we move toward ensuring that people in our community are not food insecure."

Increase in seniors

The fact that nearly half of food bank users across the country are single people surprised Chris Hatch, CEO of Food Banks Canada.

"We've never seen the rate this high before," he said, noting seniors are the fastest rising group of single people who are seeking help from food banks.

"[It's] up 30 per cent since 2016. So that's quite an increase in the number of seniors requiring the use of a food bank," he said.

The report notes that while seniors, people 65 years old and older, don't represent a large proportion of people accessing food at just seven per cent, "when looking at the rate of increase within each age group over the last three years, seniors are far outpacing the rest."

Other age groups, meanwhile, have either seen a minimal increase or have even decreased in the same time period, the report said.

Wendi Campbell is the CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. (Submitted by Jennifer Judges/Food Bank of Waterloo Region)

Calls for governments to act

The Hunger Count report lays out five recommendations that Food Banks Canada wants the federal government to address:

  • Support the creation of affordable early learning and childcare across the country.
  • Increase supports for single adults living with low incomes.
  • Immediately implement the Canada Housing Benefit (the federal government introduced a new national housing strategy in 2017).
  • Develop pilot projects toward a basic income for all Canadians.
  • Reduce northern food insecurity.

Hatch says the Ontario government's cancellation of the basic income pilot project after the Progressive Conservatives won the election in June 2018 was disappointing.

But he says he believes there's an appetite to try basic income pilots across the country.

"We're hoping that the federal government will fund research nationally to see if this makes sense for Canadians across the country," he said.

"We actually think it's a viable alternative we should be looking at to if those who can't afford day-to-day cost of living, whether it's day care, child care, housing, food, to help them with a minimum living expenses so they don't have to go to a food bank every month in Canada."

Campbell says she hopes the Hunger Count highlights that there continues to be a need in Waterloo region and there are people who face food insecurity on a daily basis.

And she hopes it spurs people who can to act.

"We also need to advocate for those longer term solutions and benefits and supports at a federal level that will help people not be food insecure and never have to access our programs in the first place," she said.

Listen to the interview with Wendi Campbell on The Morning Edition:

The annual Hunger Count from Food Banks Canada was released Tuesday. Wendi Campbell, CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, talks about the need seen in the region. 7:37

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