News / Toronto

'Over the edge': High rents pushing people struggling to make ends meet to food banks

Single people, who shoulder the entire cost of housing on their own, are a growing demographic at Ontario's food banks, according to new report.

Sheri O’Neil is a volunteer and a client at the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Sheri O’Neil is a volunteer and a client at the Daily Bread Food Bank.

High rents across Ontario, especially in Toronto, are driving more single people to use food banks, according to a new report from the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB).

About 49 per cent of the people who used food banks in 2016/2017 were single, compared to 45 per cent the year before, the report says. Almost all people using food banks are renters (90 per cent), according to the recently published "Hunger Report."

Carolyn Stewart, executive director of OAFB, said the hot housing market has a cascading effect, pushing more people into rentals and hitting low-income workers and people on social assistance hard.

"When they're trying to find affordable rental units, it just doesn't exist," she said, noting the low vacancy rates across the province. "It's kind of a perfect storm of things making it really hard for everyone to find housing."

Single people in particular have to shoulder the entire cost of housing on their own. They are looking at, in Toronto, an average of $1,137 for a one-bedroom unit, according to provincial government figures cited in the report.

People on fixed incomes such as disability, pensions or welfare simply don't make enough to cover that, she explained.

"It's just virtually impossible for people to close that gap," Stewart said. She added that some of the measures in the new National Housing Strategy could help, particularly a portable housing benefit that would see low-income people get money for rent.

Richard Matern, director of research and communications at Daily Bread Food Bank, said usage in the last year has hit levels not seen since the recession.

People with fixed incomes and the working poor are "struggling to make ends meet, and the cost of rent really pushes them over the edge," he said.

It's something Daily Bread volunteer and client Sheri O'Neil knows well. She's on social assistance, looking for work, and has watched the rent on her one-bedroom apartment climb each year.

"It's hard; you don't get much money for anything else," she said. Even a small increase of $12, in line with how much landlords can raise rents each year, makes a big difference to her tight budget.

"You can't afford a cellphone, you can't afford transportation, if you don't have a car, and then food on top of that," she explained. "When is that going to change?"

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