Recently the Ontario government released a new report in an effort to deal with the issue of income security, something that affects all of us.
North York Harvest is the primary food bank for all of northern Toronto, representing more than 1/3 of the geography of the city. Each month we ensure that more than 16,000 individuals receive vital food support. Over the 30+ years our organization has been serving this community the demand for emergency food support has never been as high as it is today and we believe numbers will only continue to increase.
We are so happy to see this type of report coming out of government. This is the first report during our 30 years supporting our community that recommends major investments in and improvements to programs that affect the lives of low-income people in Ontario. The report demonstrates a commitment to a fundamentally different approach to supports and services, putting people, and their needs and rights, at the centre.
We ask you to adopt these recommendations, but, especially where OW and ODSP rates are concerned, ten years is too long to wait.
We see clearly, at our food banks and beyond that far too many Ontarians need support immediately; people are going hungry, losing their housing and suffering unnecessary health crises at this very moment because they simply do not have enough money to live a healthy and dignified life in this province.
At North York Harvest we are deeply concerned with the current state of the income security system in Ontario. 1 in 8 households in Toronto are food insecure meaning that they lack the access to the food they need to properly feed themselves or their families. Thousands of children, seniors, single parents and adults are going hungry each day in Ontario.
Food is one of the very few “flexible” costs in the lives of people on low-incomes. We know people are skipping meals, or going whole days without food, so that they can pay for housing, prescriptions and so their children can eat. This is unacceptable anywhere, but especially in a province as progressive and wealthy as ours.
The reason for this is quite clear. People cannot access the food they need because of inadequate incomes.
29% of food bank clients in Toronto are on OW and 35% are on ODSP. The fact that the majority of people we see coming through our emergency food programs are receiving social assistance clearly shows that the rates are unacceptably low.
Food banks provide an undeniably important support to thousands of people. But food banks do not replace an adequate social safety net and cannot solve the problem of food insecurity. Simply put, food bank clients will never be able to access the food they need to feed themselves and their families without sufficient incomes.
We support the vision, principles and recommendations in the Roadmap and know that, if acted upon, they would have a deep impact on the well-being of people on low-incomes in northern Toronto and would do so with dignity and respect.
We urge the province to adopt these recommendations and to do so as quickly as possible. Government must take action now to make life better for low-income people in Ontario.