News / Vancouver

Access to food is a human right: SFU researcher

New study from Simon Fraser University finds Vancouver’s homeless and mentally ill suffer from “extremely high” prevalence of food insecurity.

Pears at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank’s sorting facility.

Courtesy Greater Vancouver Food Bank

Pears at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank’s sorting facility.

People in Vancouver who are homeless and are diagnosed with mental illness suffer even more because they don’t have access to safe, nutritious food, a new study has found.

Milad Parpouchi, of Simon Fraser University’s Somers Research Group, said the prevalence of food insecurity identified within that population is much higher than researchers expected, which can lead to even worse health outcomes for already marginalized and vulnerable people.

Whereas just 8.3 per cent of Canadian households experience food insecurity, that number skyrockets to an “extremely high” 64 per cent among homeless adults with mental illness in Vancouver.

“Homelessness itself is a very strong barrier for food security,” said Parpouchi. “You’re not likely to have kitchen appliances for cooking and spaces to store food when you’re trying to secure shelter and housing.”

While food banks and other charities try to help fill the void, Parpouchi says it’s difficult for people to access proper nutrition when they’re already dealing with health issues related to their mental illness, drug use and are just struggling to find shelter and make appointments.

The study concludes, “Interventions to reduce food insecurity in this population are urgently needed.”

Parpouchi says the answer is to rely less on charities to address that need, adopt housing-first strategies and rethink the way food services are delivered in Canada.

“We need to think about access to food as a human right,” he said.

The research was conducted as part of the Vancouver At Home study, based on questionnaires with 421 people.

Food insecurity is defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

Parpouchi said researchers are now looking at food insecurity rates of homeless people with mental illness who find adequate housing to see how the rates and health outcomes compare.

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