Edmonton Food Bank: City should fight poverty to improve food security

« Donating food is easy when compared to poverty… These are the tough conversations we need to have as a society, as a city, and one idea won’t solve everything »

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Free food distribution will not solve poverty or food insecurity and the city must use its influence to address the root causes, according to the Edmonton Food Bank.

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Demand for its basket program peaked in June – nearly double requests in 2020 – showing the need for the service, according to the charity. But in a letter sent to councilors ahead of a committee meeting on food insecurity, the food bank said governments and society must first address the reasons people are being forced into poverty.

“As with most food banks, the Edmonton Food Bank challenges the idea that gleaned food alone will reduce poverty,” reads the letter, part of which was shared with Postmedia. “There is a moral dimension to hunger and we all need to be committed to improving the health and well-being of others. After all, scavenged food is not a realistic substitute for policies that help vulnerable Canadians enter the labor market or access adequate income support and affordable housing that allows low-income people to live. with dignity.

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Tamisan Bencz-Knight, spokesperson for the Edmonton Food Bank, told Postmedia that more energy needs to be put into reducing poverty in general because food insecurity is just a symptom. . She said it was essential to help people with housing, addictions, childcare, transportation and mental health.

« Feeding people is fine, we have to keep doing that, but we’re not moving that bar, » she said. « Donating food is easy when you compare it to poverty… These are the tough conversations we need to have as a society, as a city, and one idea won’t solve everything. »

Apart from discussions of inflationary pressures, councilors did not discuss poverty versus food security more generally during the meeting. However, some members asked the city administration if advocacy on food security was currently being considered. No details on the planned actions were given.

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In June, 30,770 people received a food bank basket, the highest for any June in the charity’s history. By comparison, 17,962 people received a basket in 2020, compared to just 12,622 in 2012. Food baskets helped 34,867 people last month, the highest on record.

Lack of support in Alberta

Multiple gaps in social services, many of which fall under provincial jurisdiction, are identified in the food bank’s letter: « inadequate social assistance benefits, lack of disability supports, family breakdown and domestic violence, chronic unemployment, lack of child care and subsidized rent, unreasonable and unsafe housing, addictions, and much more.

Eric Engler, press secretary for Mental Health and Addictions Minister Mike Ellis, wrote in an email that the Alberta government continues to support the most vulnerable, including donating $6 million to food banks and groups. communities providing food.

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“We are doing everything we can to help families get the support they need to pay rent, buy food, find and keep appropriate housing, and care for loved ones,” he wrote. . « Overall, the Government of Alberta has committed more than any other province to affordability with more than $2 billion in relief that includes fuel tax relief, on electricity, affordable child care and a natural gas rebate starting this fall.

Engler said AISH payments are the highest in Canada and the province supports people with mental health issues and pointed to Alberta’s rent supplement program.

On substance abuse, he highlighted the addition of 8,000 new treatment beds, a 100-bed recovery center outside of Edmonton, harm reduction services like the Digital Overdose Response System (DORS ), and expansion of opioid agonist therapy and coverage of injectable costs. opioid treatment drug Sublocade.

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Advocates called on the province to make harm reduction services more accessible. In May, 118 drug poisoning deaths were reported in Alberta, well above pre-pandemic levels.

While not proposing specific policy changes, the Edmonton Food Bank urged city council to consider Food Banks Canada’s recommendations in its recent Hunger Count report. Suggestions (some issues are federal) included new supports for low-income renters, faster availability of affordable housing, expanded support for low-wage and underemployed workers, minimum income pilot programs and more support for low-income single adults.

Survey results in the Edmonton Food Bank’s 2021 report found that most users needed an extra $200 to $600 per month to reduce their reliance on its services. His survey revealed that many users were unaware of or did not use certain City of Edmonton programs such as the free recreation pass (approximately 75%) and the bus pass for people with low income (about 70%).



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