News / Vancouver

Healthy, affordable food linked to anti-poverty efforts: advocate

As B.C. election approaches, conference on poverty reduction and living wage hopes to get economic equality on the agenda.

Paul Taylor, executive director of Gordon Neighbourhood House in Vancouver’s West End, speaks at a poverty reduction and living wage summit held in Richmond, which started on Tuesday.

David P. Ball / Metro

Paul Taylor, executive director of Gordon Neighbourhood House in Vancouver’s West End, speaks at a poverty reduction and living wage summit held in Richmond, which started on Tuesday.

What’s on B.C. families’ dinner tables needs to be part of an urgently needed anti-poverty plan for the province, advocates attending a summit in Richmond said Tuesday.

In a keynote speech that opened the two-day Poverty Reduction and Living Wage conference, the executive director of the West End’s Gordon Neighbourhood House recounted his own childhood being raised by a single mother below the poverty line.

“She worked three low-wage jobs,” Paul Taylor said. “She was pretty much always working until she was unable to work anymore; she became ill.

“This is the case for so many folks that we don't talk about as much as we should … This is the reality for a lot of families split up because of poverty.”

He said that the lack of food had a “significant” impact on his childhood, as well as his family’s stress and mental health.

Gordon Neighbourhood House has focused many of its efforts on food security, ensuring that low-income residents have access to healthy, affordable food. But for him, access to food for all is also about people’s dignity.

He said there’s a need to “re-envision what the model looks like in our neighbourhoods for accessing charitable food.

“We're at a very critical juncture where we're seeing people who are working full-time needing to go to food banks … We have to push back and say, 'This is not ok.' This is a reflection of a broken system that isn't solved by more charity.”

According to summit participant Elise Barber, food security coordinator for Collingwood Neighbourhood House and a member of the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, food is a “powerful” way people can connect with each other while also tackling inequalities.

“When you really dig deep into why people are food insecure, it comes down to people’s access to income and their ability to afford food to feed their families,” she told Metro. “It's really important to really dig deeper into the root causes.”

Tuesday also saw the release of a report from Food Banks Canada, which found that nearly 900,000 Canadians relied on the services to feed themselves in a single month this year, March. That was a 1.3 per cent increase from the previous March, and 28 per cent above 2008 levels.

For Trish Garner, with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, the disturbing increase in need bolsters the coalition’s call for a provincial anti-poverty strategy ahead of next May’s election. B.C. is the only province without one, she said.

“Of course we need food banks right now because we have almost 500,000 people in B.C. facing food insecurity,” she told Metro. “But if we spend all of our energy there, then we're going to be doing this for years and years and years to come. We need folks to take a more preventive approach.”

The coalition’s proposed poverty reduction plan includes calls for raising minimum wage, increasing welfare rates stagnant since 2007, providing affordable child care spaces, housing and education, among other demands.

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