Western and Indwell Collaborate on Housing for Those Most in Need

by Steven Rolfe, RN, BSCN, MED, CHE, Director of Health Partnerships, Indwell

Light behind an opening door.

Photo by and machines on Unsplash

Western University and Indwell have partnered to undertake award-winning research on the power of supportive housing to change lives. Indwell: Making Supportive Housing Work for Canada’s Most Vulnerable is a testimony to the courage of our tenants in living out their search for health, wellness, and belonging in the face of system constraints. The project was the 2022 recipient of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s “Golden Roof” Award. Under the leadership of Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and his team from Western University and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion, researchers completed a two-year study of Indwell’s supportive housing at London’s Woodfield Gate Apartments, with funding from the National Housing Strategy.

Indwell exists for the care and support of people. We offer deeply affordable housing, care, and support to people experiencing mental health disorders, homelessness, substance use disorders, and other health challenges. We measure our own progress with our tenants and appreciate the personal testimonies of our tenants and partners who identify our work as important and of high quality.

However, there are gaps in what we know about our work. Some of the work we are doing is so new that there is very little to compare it to. While many see the need to replicate and expand work like Indwell’s, there is a significant lack of rigorous evaluation of supportive housing. Secondly, we have the opportunity to use the knowledge developed in our services to inform national policy. In a landscape of high competition for a relatively small basket of resources, lack of evidence can be detrimental to the growth of supportive housing supply for the most vulnerable.

I encourage you to read the full report. As I reviewed it, two items stood out to me.

The first is the affirmation that deep affordability, community, and access to support as a complete package are important to our tenants and a key element of their journey towards wellness. Not only is the availability of support a factor, but it is the availability of a deep and full range of support services that contributes to tenant health and wellness. Tenant narratives affirm what other data tells us: supportive housing can end homelessness for individuals and create new opportunities for recovery and growth.

The second finding is the fact that supportive housing is embraced within the National Housing Strategy as one of the six priority areas for action: “Housing for those in greatest need.” Permanent Supportive Housing is identified as a key intervention in ending the experience of homelessness for vulnerable Canadians, and yet—from a policy and resource-allocation perspective—lacks meaningful support in federal policy such as the National Housing Strategy. The very tool that can be used to end homelessness is, in fact—from a policy perspective—also homeless. While there are clear pathways for charities to develop new housing in terms of bricks and mortar, the same pathways don’t exist to find the supports to keep people housed.

The research concluded with a number of practical recommendations for both policy changes and local service delivery. They include:

  1. Social assistance rates must be increased to make affordability work better.
  2. Readily available, on-site supports should be integrated in more existing community/social housing, and affordable housing sites to expedite the process of expanding supportive housing.
  3. National Housing Strategy funding should support affordability and deep affordability. Loan funding for market-rent housing development should be a separate program.
  4. The National Housing Strategy should create a dedicated supportive housing stream to ensure that organizations who wish to house Canada’s most vulnerable are guaranteed some portion of operational funding.
  5. Other organizations who may provide affordable housing without current on-site supports—even those who work in the sector but not necessarily providing housing—should consider taking up delivery of permanent supportive housing.

This work verifies that continued advocacy for a singular policy which governs the creation of net new supportive housing resources blending health and housing resources will make the development of adequate housing a reality. Permanent supportive housing works; replicating it will require support through updates of the National Housing Strategy.

You can see more of our recommendations and stories from our study participants at: https://www.abeoudshoorn.com/making-supportive-housing-work-for-the-most-vulnerable/

This study will inform future policy—and we’re not finished. Together, we have secured additional funding to continue our research. The next phase of the research will trace the paths of tenants in particular outcomes like service usage, length of tenancy, and wellbeing. This will allow us to compare different forms of support being provided at four different housing sites in London and St. Thomas. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Western to study and improve our model of permanent supportive housing.

Read about this work in the article in Western News.

System Level Solutions are Needed to Address Food Insecurity

Image from https://blogs.ufv.ca/chasi/2021/09/29/addressing-the-challenges-of-food-insecurity/

In this series Food Insecurity Affects Us All – A 360 Degree View of the Issues, we have explored myths about food insecurity and the impacts on college & university students and broader London neighbours and community members. We are indeed all affected. In this blog, I share recommendations from Western student leaders and from community leaders.

Action at multiple levels and across systems is needed to address this complex health and social equity problem

Graduate Students Needs

“The roots of food insecurity stem from graduate funding packages that no longer reflect the increased cost of living (housing, food, and essential items). The policies and decisions made by our provincial and federal government are affecting our graduate student body.”

Kesavi Kanagasabai, Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) Vice President Student Services.

Kanagasabai told me, “There is a lot of stigma associated with people who decide to pursue higher education, often people wonder why those who pursue graduate schooling do not enter the workforce. Our society requires you to have graduate education to get a decent entry-level paying job. There is a statistic, which shows that women on average tend to go for more degrees as being more qualified than the average man, and that is something that I think people do not account for.”

Graduate education means more financial burden.

To background this issue, graduate students are funded generally in the following ways:

1) Research fellowships, where funds are allocated through research grants, usually Tri-Council Canadian government research agencies or other external sources of funding obtained through their supervisor’s work

2) Scholarships

3) Other part-time employment, such as through teaching assistantships (TA).

However, it is important to note is that Tri-Council research funding has not increased in step with current economic and social needs. For example, the funding allocated through Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has not increased in 2 decades. The freezing of research funds significantly affects the compensation of graduate students for their research work.

As I explored in Food Insecurity: A Hidden Issue on Campus, approximately 1 in 10 graduate students are facing the effects of food insecurity. To respond, SOGS voted to increase the graduate student foodbank allotment from $75 (and $25/dependent) to $100. Following this organizational response, SOGS further advocated for increased graduate student financial aid from Western’s Provost and School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to support not only the food bank, but to stand by their commitment to student health, wellness, and overall academic success. SOGS’ leadership using evidence-based survey research and community petition to reform graduate student funding at Western, in addition to collective action efforts (i.e., public rally) provided by Western’s Graduate Teaching Assistant and Postdoctoral Union (PSAC Local 610) garnered the university’s attention toward food insecurity and housing needs among the graduate community during the winter term.

Western Administration Responds

SOGS’ advocacy, led by the Executive team, resulted in the graduate community receiving the largest investment to date from Western. Initially, a 3-year $500k emergency needs-based graduate student bursary program was offered. However, following further negotiations and collaborative efforts between the Provost’s leadership team and the SOGS Executive in a joint Graduate Student Affordability Working Group, which included hosting a Graduate Funding Town Hall, the bursary program commitment was tripled resulting in a $1.5 million contribution from Western over the next 3-year budget cycle.

While this contribution was well received by the broader Western community, Danica Facca, the 2022-2023 SOGS President, says that this issue requires a larger conversation; “While the funding is welcome, and will likely provide a much-needed lifeline to students, longstanding issues need to be addressed.

Facca elaborates, “Once the bursaries are depleted, what does that mean then? [T]hese larger structural pieces need to be addressed with severity and seriousness. Structural issues include the transparency behind the makeup of graduate funding packages and the opportunities graduate students have to be supported by their program/faculty at both the master’s and doctoral level of study. While the current minimum funding guarantee for doctoral students is $20,000 per year over four years, and includes paying out for tuition and ancillary fees, funding support that is paid out to graduate students across campus varies according to each faculty as it is dependent on their internal funding and external funding circumstances. Some faculties, like those in science, receive more robust funding from tri-council agencies and external organizations which results in larger budgets to go towards supporting graduate student trainees and research work. This faculty-based system, regardless of a minimum funding guarantee, perpetuates inequity across graduate programs at Western. Higher guaranteed funding packages, inclusive of tuition and ancillary fees, across master’s and doctoral programs would allow graduate students to avoid taking out loans or working a second job, and keep them about the poverty line.”

Kevin Moore, the 2022-2023 SOGS Vice President Academic agrees and suggests the $1.5 million bursary program commitment is the start of a necessary overhaul of graduate student funding, “ [T]he allocation of these funds will be important so things like childcare subsidies and food banks but again, I wouldn’t classify these as solutions rather it is a start in helping members who are in dire need for these resources.”

Facca adds, “The university should commit to making ‘full-ride’ scholarships for unfunded programs for students from equity-deserving groups.”

Kanagasabai alsosuggests prioritizing based on need. “When graduate housing infrastructure is put in place to support the growing student population, these units should be available to students in need rather than on a first-come first-serve basis. This is ensuring students from marginalized communities and financial precarities are being supported and given equal opportunities.”

Student Leaders Call for Multifaceted Approaches to Solving Food Insecurity on Campus

Facca suggests, “ [A] multifaceted approach to solving health inequities like food insecurity should intersect at the level of financial and institutional policy changes.”

Facca recommends the following to address food insecurity among graduate students:

  • Update funding packages and stipends to make them commensurate with inflation rates to improve overall quality of life and financial circumstances.
  • Invest in needs-based financial support programs within post-secondary institutions, with attention given to those students from equity-deserving groups who face additional barriers to accessing higher education.
  • Offer peer-based/student-led community food support programs within private spaces away from undergraduate students and faculty (with whom graduate students work with or instruct) so they can access financial supports like gift-cards in order to go out and independently purchase products that are best for their dietary, cultural, and personal needs without being bound to a limited option of non-perishable items.
  • Invest in on-campus community-based kitchen spaces where graduate students can bring food to prepare, as well as space where small groups can prepare meals together, which can increase access to nutritious food, build community, combat social isolation, and offer an alternative to emergency food relief programs.

Community Leaders Call for System Level Targets and Action

In the blog, A Conversation about Food Insecurity at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre in London Ontario, we explored the human side of food insecurity in the community. The London Community Foundation recently hosted a Vital Signs conversation about Food Insecurity with community leaders to talk about their ideas on solutions. Below are a few ideas.

The Vital Conversation: Food Security video is available to watch and listen to the full discussion.

The panelists validated what I have been hearing from campus to community. Becky Ellis from Urban Roots London, a non-profit organization that supports innovative urban agricultural models said, “People need to be able to afford food. [W]e need affordable housing and all levels of government have to take this very seriously. We also need, I believe, increases to social assistance, to ODSP and to minimum wage.”

I was also impacted by Sarah Stern’s comments. Stern is from the social impact program of Maple Leaf Foods – the Maple Leaf Centre for Food Insecurity – and talked about food policy in Canada, emphasizing that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that everyone has access to food.

Stern said, “I think our number one push is that this government needs to set a target to reduce food insecurity. If you set a target, it promotes cross-departmental working groups that have to be working together and it trickles down. Right now, we have a food policy for Canada that talks about food insecurities going in the wrong direction so it’s an indicator but not an outcome. So, we really think we need a target to reduce food insecurity to align action.”

Stern’s comments pointed me to the potential of the Canada Disability Benefit legislation, which has passed a third reading in the House of Commons and is at the level of the Senate. If it passes it will become law and support working age Canadians with disabilities. This is important because 50% of people in Canada who are food insecure have a disability. The proposed benefit would stack on top of provincial benefits and potentially alleviate financial strain.

Recently the federal budget was announced and included a grocery rebate for low-income Canadians. While this top-up may show that government recognizes the need for more income specifically due to food insecurity, some say it does not go far enough to address the root issues.

I am struck by the similarity of the actions by a large university institution and the federal government; both have the right ideas but don’t yet go far enough to address food insecurity.

Written by Samantha Campanella

More information:

A news media article covered the commitment of $500K that Western University made for struggling grad students.

The Western SOGS twitter account reposted CBC’s announcement on $500K commitment at Western University

The PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research website has information about how to reduce food insecurity in Canada.

The London Community Foundation hosted A Conversation on Food Insecurity.

This series was developed by Samantha Campanella and Hooria Haider, Western University, Health Sciences Students, Community Engaged Learning placement with CRHESI. Christine Garinger, CRHESI Coordinator, was series editor.

A Conversation about Food Insecurity at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre in London Ontario

In this series, Food Insecurity Affects Us All: A 360 Degree View of the Issues, we took a brief look into the experiences of food insecurity for Western University Students. We now turn our focus to the London community.

In talking to Jennifer Martino and Robert Templeton at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre, I learned that Crouch aims to provide Londoners with equitable access to basic needs such as food and hygiene items, in addition to many other programs developed to increase community inclusion and well-being.

One of the most accessed Crouch programs is the Community Cupboard in which they provide meals and food supplies to neighbours in the Hamilton Road area who may be experiencing food insecurity. While statistics are important to situate a problem, I was eager to learn more about the human side of experiencing food insecurity. Jennifer and Robert shared their perspectives, giving me new insights about the reason why food insecurity persists and the ways in which community members can help.

From: https://www.crouchnrc.org/aboutus

Holding them to a Higher Standard

From: https://www.calgaryfoodbank.com/2022/mental-health/

I asked what the general public may not understand about food insecurity and about those affected?

Jennifer and Robert explained to me that food insecurity is not as simple as a physiological need for food, but also has huge impacts on one’s social and emotional well-being. They went on to explain that although there needs to be action on long-term solutions to food insecurity such as policy for livable wage or a basic income, in the short term providing food to people with financial needs, through food banks and cupboards is still vital. These resources help people assuage their immediate hunger, while also supporting social and emotional needs by knowing food and support are available.

A common reaction by the general public to those facing poverty and hunger is unfairly narrow: just get a job, work harder, pull up your “bootstraps”!

At Crouch, I was able to see the depth and complexity of the issue. The fact of the matter is, as Jennifer said, “you can’t focus on getting to a job interview if all you can focus on is the fact that you are hungry [and] need something to eat. It prevents you from taking that next step in whatever direction you need to take for safety and well-being”.

While this might seem obvious to some readers, I hadn’t thought about the way hunger can impact the activities of daily life in this way. Unpacking this, of course, if someone were to tell me that they were hungry and could not focus, or get through their to-do list, my reaction to them would be grounded in empathy. I would not expect them to be especially productive that day because I would know, that were I in their position, I would probably feel and behave in the same manner. However, it became apparent to me that our current society holds people facing food insecurity and poverty to an unrealistic standard. Society expects people experiencing food insecurity to work even harder to overcome their circumstances, all while experiencing the devastating physical and emotional effects of hunger and uncertainty.

How did we get to a place where we cannot collectively empathize with such basic human needs and act for change?

From: https://www.calgaryfoodbank.com/2022/mental-health/

The Community

Witnessing one of Crouch’s food insecurity targeted initiatives, the Hot Meal program, had an impact on me. I was surprised to find that although the initiative’s primary purpose was to provide food and resources, the program doubled as an event to build community.

Jennifer explained, “many people will come 45 minutes, even an hour early just to hang out and talk to each other and talk to staff, so it does become a social time as much as it is about the lunch.”

Sharing a meal together is a social experience, as much as it is meeting a biological need. Food insecurity means that a person is hungry, but it also means that, a lot of the time, people are missing out on opportunities to feel a sense of connection with others. Crouch’s programming reduces this isolation.

Looking back at the day I spent at Crouch, I now appreciate that being part of the experience and chatting with community members showed me that people who experience food insecurity are just people, like myself and everyone else. In fixating on finding solutions to a problem that a community faces, sometimes the line between the people and the problem becomes blurred and the response is too narrow; there are humans behind the headlines.

At the end of the day, everyone should have the right to equal access to basic needs, but also the equal right to dignity. Though the photo below is from a December 2022 CBC news article, I thought it clearly represented what I also witnessed: the warm and friendly community that Crouch creates and is known for.

From: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/crouch-nrc-food-warm-winter-wishes-1.6679249

Stigma and Empathy

There has been a common rhetoric of stigma and shame surrounding food insecurity, but Jennifer and Robert shared an unexpected twist in attitudes in the post-COVID era.

“The pandemic made food insecurity relevant to everyone for the first time because [that was a period when] you couldn’t walk into a grocery store, you had to wait in long lines to get access to what you needed. […] Shelves were often empty and [stores] had problems with inventory. Everybody felt at least a little bit of panic at that time. Did you have enough food? Were the grocery stores going to shut down? Because of the pandemic, most people have a sense of ‘we’ve all been there’ [..] even those of us who had never had would never otherwise be in that situation”.

It seems to me, that the COVID-19 pandemic acted like a sort of equalizer because it created a very specific point in history where almost everyone was experiencing some kind of insecurity around income, food, safety and hygiene products. I wonder if this experience, has started to break down myths, as people are getting a clearer picture of the larger systemic factors that influence the issue of food insecurity

I gained new insights by thinking about the everyday experience of people in our community and found this to be very inspiring. I think that this shows a beautiful part of human nature. Even in our darkest moments in history where bad things keep happening for seemingly nothing to show for it, as humans we come out on the other side having gained empathy and understanding of our fellow humans. Can we use this, to try to bring positive change and reach out our hand to people who face struggles every day?

I think that our capacity for empathy is key to advocating and fighting for systematic change.

From: https://www.artd.com.au/news/empathy-the-soft-skill-needed-to-harden-our-evaluation-practice/

Creating Change – What Can I Do?

With new insights I feel motivated to help with the issue of food insecurity, but just like many others, I also feel powerless to have an impact on such a huge issue. I asked Jennifer and Robert, “How can I, as an average Londoner, make a positive impact in improving food insecurity?”

Here’s what I heard:

  • Participate and use the power you do have by involving yourself in government; at the very least, educate yourself on issues that matter to you and vote accordingly.
  • Take opportunities to provide input. For example, when the City of London asks for feedback on London’s strategic plan, don’t  ignore the call! Bring up food insecurity!
  • Use your voice to highlight and emphasize the holes in social policies
  • If you see a gap in your community, build your own initiative, for example a community garden or a bake sale
  • Get people involved
  • Amplify the work of food security-oriented organizations on social media and stay updated on organizations’ activities, share their message with the people in your own circle

Community initiatives foster a sense of stability and security, which is an important aspect of peoples’ lives that is often overlooked.

The Crouch website has details about Basic Needs and Advocacy.

The 211 website lists many community programs and resources by region.

Thank you to Jennifer Martino and Robert Templeton at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre, for this interview.

Written by Hooria Haider

This series was developed by Samantha Campanella and Hooria Haider, Western University, Health Sciences Students, Community Engaged Learning placement with CRHESI. Christine Garinger, CRHESI Coordinator, was series editor.

Food Insecurity: A Hidden Issue on Campus

Food insecurity has devastating impacts on students’ health and well-being at Western. As we explored in the first blog of this series, Food Insecurity Affects Us All: A 360 Degree View of the Issues, food insecurity exists across the London community and beyond, but the public is often unaware of the depth of this issue among university students. Many might assume that students in higher education are removed from issues related to poverty, such as food insecurity. I explored the issue further, speaking with student leaders at Western. I was curious about the ways myths fuel stigma related to food and financial circumstances of Western’s students.

Food Support Services Coordinator at Western’s University Students’ Council (USC), Jenna Lam told me, “It’s hard to have daily functioning when you do not have an adequate supply of nutritious foods, which can have a huge impact on students’ mental health, as well as academic performance.”

Kesavi Kanagasabai, the Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) Vice President and Student Services executive elaborated, “There is a direct correlation on mental and physical well-being and the lack of adequate food/nutrients. This is then rippled into social and behavioral aspects of life. Whether it be feeling insecure, acknowledging and sharing it with your peers, this affects the triad of mental, physical and social well-being and creates this continuous negative feedback loop unless addressed at the root. As graduate students, they are exposed to complex environments through their research, teaching, and community involvements where this triad is further amplified. Furthermore, with identifying as being food insecure this makes us question whether students are dismissing their health as well, such as avoiding mental and physical check-ups/medication due to the increasing cost of services.”

Food insecurity on post-secondary campuses has been a hidden problem. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unstable economy, and sharply rising inflation rates are further contributing to the growing issue of food insecurity among university students.

The infographic below from the fall of 2022 shows results of a survey of Western graduate students, indicating that 44% of respondents experience food insecurity. You can read the full report on the SOGS website.

Image from https://sogs.ca/news/

 “Food insecurity is a systemic issue. One thing that people don’t tend to realize is that income inequality is a huge issue tied to food insecurity and a lot of times this isn’t really talked about in the media. It’s important that we’re not just focused on food charity necessarily but also things like financial needs for students, which is intertwined with food insecurity” – Jenna Lam, Western USC Food Support Services Coordinator

While low income is the proximate cause of food insecurity, looking beneath the surface reveals it as a complex interplay of political, economic, institutional, and cultural factors.

“Students from lower socioeconomic status, people that live with disabilities, marginalized communities and international students are hit the hardest with food insecurity, especially those with dependents” -Kesavi Kanagasabai

“International students are often misinformed about the cost of living in Canada, especially due to the way that offer letters are sent out. – Kevin Moore

“Food insecurity is a larger issue of people not being able to understand the complexity and intersectionality of privilege. There are so many unique situations that we see come through our office…There are so many little factors that feed into someone’s situation of being food insecure beyond income”

Kevin Moore, SOGS VP academic

Student-Led Initiatives

Image from https://westernusc.ca/services/food-support-services/

Western’s USC advocates for undergraduate students experiencing food insecurity. Since opening in 2017, USC’s  Food Hamper programs try to fill a gap between student needs and their resources. Students can confidentially sign-up online and pick up a food hamper in a locker in the basement of the University Community Centre. Volunteer program staff report that the digital Food Hamper is a highly accessed program as it aims to protect Western students’ dignity – the anonymous format reduces experiences of shame and embarrassment. From September 1, 2022 to March 15, 2023, there have been a total of 585 food hampers and 20 food gift cards distributed with 1122 students dropping into the USC Food Bank.

“Working in the food bank, I’ve noticed that there is a significant number of students who still feel stigma. A lot of people are nervous about food insecurity and because of that, the USC food bank works hard to reiterate the words ‘safe space’ to students, to ensure that students feel comfortable coming into the food bank”. – Jenna Lam

SOGS at Western University launched a food bank in 2017 for graduate students, specifically for those not earning an income from teaching. In the 2022/23 academic year so far, the program has served approximately 516 students.

Cameron Cawston, VP Student Support and Programming said that food banks in Ontario and across Canada are accessed more frequently than before indicating that the need extends beyond campus, into the community.   Cawston also added that food insecurity isn’t a new problem, it’s just one that’s finally being talked about. “Food insecurity is not new to post-secondary students, rather this is the beginning of an active conversation about this issue. Just because we’re having conversations about food insecurity, doesn’t mean that it is a brand-new issue”

We need a coordinated response across various sectors and members

“It’s important that systems work together”

USC’s Jenna Lam

I would like to thank Cameron Cawston & Jenna Lam from USC Food Support Services and Kevin Moore & Kesavi Kanagasabai from SOGS, for taking the time to share their perspectives of food insecurity on campus, which helped to cultivate awareness on this increasingly prevalent issue.

Next in the series, we will look at community and system level solutions to food insecurity.

Written by Samantha Campanella

More information:

The Western USC website has information about food support services https://westernusc.ca/services/food-support-services/

The Western SOGS website has information about financial aid programs https://sogs.ca/about/

A news media article covered the increased requests from students in November 2022 https://globalnews.ca/news/9282855/western-university-food-bank/

The SOGS website has results of the Housing and Food Insecurity Survey https://sogs.ca/surveys/

This series was developed by Samantha Campanella and Hooria Haider, Western University, Health Sciences Students, Community Engaged Learning placement with CRHESI. Christine Garinger, CRHESI Coordinator, was series editor.

Food Insecurity Affects Us All – A 360 Degree View of the Issues

Food, like water, shelter, and education, is a basic need that every single person should be afforded regardless of socioeconomic status. Despite this, all over the world, including Canada, people struggle to meet these needs; their experiences of inequity are often denied or belittled. Food insecurity is an issue that has devastating impacts on people’s health and well-being.

This series on food insecurity aims to provide a snapshot and raise awareness about the state of food insecurity in London, focusing on both the stories of students at Western University, and the experiences of our local London community

Debunking Myths

Before we can begin to investigate food insecurity, it is important to understand this issue. For this reason, I want to debunk some common misconceptions about food insecurity.

Myth: Food Insecurity is an Issue of Hunger

People who are hungry are deprived of a key resource required to enable them to go about their lives. I spoke with Jennifer Martino and Robert Templeton at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Center, to gain their perspectives as service providers in the busy Hamilton Road area of London. They explained that without adequate food, people are less equipped to deal with the ups and downs of life. For example, a hungry child may be distracted, or act out in school. The consequences of food insecurity over time are that people may not have the same opportunity to achieve in the ways their peers do. People may be excluded from everyday social life and may be worn down trying to cope with the stress that goes along with food insecurity. Being food insecure affects relationships and social connection, which are key for health and well-being.

The stress of not having basic security such as enough to eat is related to poor mental health, and can have enduring impact, negatively affecting almost every aspect of a person’s life. The effects can be especially detrimental for children, as living with high stress during the early years is shown to impact social, emotional, and physical development and educational attainment.

Food insecurity is a multilayered problem interlinked with other health and social issues. For example, people who are food insecure also tend to experience higher rates of infectious and non-communicable diseases, injuries, and premature mortality, and are often not able to afford treatments and medication required to manage their conditions. As a result, they often decide to forgo necessary medications because of the expense. Almost 50% of adults living in households with severe food-insecurity reported delaying, reducing, or skipping prescription medications due to cost[1]. This phenomenon is one that is associated with both worsening health and greater use of healthcare services, costing the healthcare system 2.5 times more each year for care than care for food-secure adults[2].

The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for many as it exacerbated health and social issues typically hidden from the public view. One of these issues was food insecurity. More people in our community, from more walks of life, were forced to rely on social assistance and food banks to meet their basic needs.

“We thought that as the pandemic was winding down, we would see need [for food supports] decrease, but in the last year we have seen a 60% increase in visits to the food cupboard”

Jennifer Martino, Executive Director at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre

Myth:  Food Insecurity is not a Problem in London, Ontario

London is city of almost half a million people, and home to Western University, one of Canada’s most prestigious academic institutions, yet it is not immune from food insecurity. In fact, food insecurity is growing.  The London Food Bank’s support to the community has nearly doubled since 2021, providing service to approximately 4000 families per month and 20,000 individuals through community networks[3]. This reflects growing food insecurity across Canada, an indication that even wealthy countries are not immune.  The Food Insecurity and Policy Research Unit’s (PROOF) website has a comprehensive report on household food insecurity in Canada.

Myth: Food Banks are the Primary Solution to Food Insecurity

Like many other cities, London’s primary response to food insecurity has been to create and sustain food banks and cupboards and encourage Londoners to donate. However, evidence has shown that this is not a long-term solution to this persistent social issue. Food insecurity is first and foremost an issue of policy choices that mean insufficient income for many Londoners, but solutions have emphasized charity through food banks, rather than policy remedies through, for example, adequate minimum wage. Although food banks have undeniably saved lives, ultimately, it is only a treatment of the symptoms of the problem, not a solution addressing root causes.

This brief video shows Glen Pearson, Director of London’s Food Bank, talk about “Tourniquets and Band-Aids”.

Most people who are struggling with food insecurity also do not see food banks as a solution preferring to ask for financial help from friends and family, miss bill payments, or sell their possessions rather than accessing a food bank. The reasons for this include shame and stigma, lack of easy access to a food bank, and inappropriate food options in that cultural or health needs might mean that the type of food available does not match what people require.

Given the scale of the issue of food insecurity in London and in Canada, food banks continue to expand services as the primary response, but this only perpetuates the problem, rather than acting at root causes.

Image from: https://proof.utoronto.ca/2020/in-the-news-food-banks-cant-adequately-address-covid-19-food-insecurity/

Myth: If People Shopped More Wisely, they would Avoid Food Insecurity

There is a common assumption that food insecurity is associated with poor food skills such as ineffective grocery shopping and cooking practices.

However, this over-simplifies things.  A Canadian study found that 84% of adults in food insecure households report shopping with a budget, compared to 43% of adults in food secure households[4]. As well, self-reported cooking ability and recipe adjustment frequency is found to be the same in both food secure and insecure households. It is clear that food insecurity is not rooted in lack of food skills, or lack of effort to maintain a healthy but affordable lifestyle.

Find more information at: https://proof.utoronto.ca/resource/food-procurement-food-skills-food-insecurity/

Myth: Only Certain Groups of People Face Food Insecurity

During my time visiting Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre, I observed the long lines for food, with no guarantee of getting to the front of the line before meals ran out.  A common stereotype is that food insecurity is an issue that only people experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty face. Stigmatizing attitudes such as blaming and shaming people for their situation stem from beliefs that people are simply lazy, unwilling to work and want to rely on social supports. However, complex health and social determinants interact at individual and systemic levels to create barriers for many people to access food.  We see this in growing rates of food bank use among those who are employed, as they try to stretch inadequate incomes from pay cheque to pay cheque.

Many may not consider that university students –often presumed to have economic privilege – also live with food insecurity.

The next blog in this series will explore food insecurity issues that students are facing and consider why the issue is a matter of equity for all.

“[Food insecurity] is an everyday emergency.”

Jennifer Martino, Executive Director at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre

Written by Hooria Haider

This series was developed by Samantha Campanella and Hooria Haider, Western University Health Sciences Students, Community Engaged Learning placement with CRHESI. Christine Garinger, CRHESI Coordinator, edited the series.

[1] Men, F., Gundersen, C., Urquia, M. L., & Tarasuk, V. (2019). Prescription medication nonadherence associated with food insecurity: a population-based cross-sectional study. Canadian Medical Association Open Access Journal, 7(3), E590-E597.

[2] Ibid


[4] Huisken A, Orr SK, Tarasuk V. Adults’ food skills and use of gardens are not associated with household food insecurity in Canada. Can J Public Health. 2017 Mar 1;107(6):e526-e532. doi: 10.17269/cjph.107.5692. PMID: 28252370; PMCID: PMC697232