Food bank usage spikes across province

By Austin M. Davis, The Star Phoenix, November 5, 2014

As Saskatchewan's economy continues to lure more people to the province, food banks are feeling a boom, too.

"There are more people coming to Saskatchewan that may need interim assistance," said Steve Compton, Regina Food Bank CEO, on Tuesday.

According to Food Banks Canada's 2014 Hunger Count report, a study on the use of food banks across Canada, Saskatchewan's 19.4 per cent year-over-year increase in food bank usage was the highest of all the provinces.

The national average was an increase of one per cent, while Alberta and Manitoba saw increases of 2.3 and 2.4 per cent, respectively.

In March, 26,820 people were assisted by the province's food banks; nearly half of those clients were kids.

While newcomers make up some of the increased figures, Compton said he's seeing some people who are struggling with the cost of living and housing affordability.

"We have seen a shift that there are more working people accessing food bank services as well," Compton said.

Since March, the Regina branch numbers have decreased because of an improved job market and human service agencies across the city connecting people to opportunities, he said.

Food bank usage in Saskatchewan has increased by 51 per cent since 2008. Manitoba is the only province with a higher percentage increase since that time. Compton said the recession, household income, housing costs and inflation have all played a part in forcing people to rely on charitable donations for food.

Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer said Saskatchewan's population increase accounts for nearly 17 per cent of the food bank usage increase since last year. She said the provincial government has implemented a housing strategy and initiatives to address poverty, addictions and mental health, but acknowledged more work needs to be done.

"We need to examine and work with our food banks to find out who those individuals are," Harpauer said. "What's the face to these numbers?" The largest demographics using the food banks in the province are women and aboriginal people. More than 40 per cent of those using the service are single, while 27.5 per cent are single-parent families and 21.9 per cent are twoparent families.

"We have some single-parent families that are struggling, and so we need to be mindful of that," Harpauer said, referring to the high proportion of children using food banks. She said 8,000 fewer children are living in low-income families since 2007.

But what about the people in immediate and repeated need?

"(For) the absolute, desperate, on-the-street person, are we moving fast enough? For that individual, no," Harpauer said. "Within our resources of our government, I think we've been pretty steady working on this and trying to make the improvements."

Even food banks in small centres are feeling the pinch.

Carlyle's food bank saw an increase in 2011 that hasn't receded. Chairperson Mavis James said with the main businesses in the area being oil and farming, plus three nearby First Nations, the need has stayed the same.

Meadow Lake's Door of Hope Food Bank reported seeing more children this year and more repeat clients.

In Swift Current, Lorraine Jansen-Unrau said the food bank saw a significant increase of first time users (about six newcomers a month) while repeat clients haven't declined.

"A lot of them have just moved to the city, and surprisingly they've moved from Regina or Saskatoon for jobs and lower rent," Jansen-Unrau said.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Link to Story