Ontario seniors are feeling the squeeze as housing and food costs continue to rise. The situation is resulting in a growing number of seniors turning to food banks and drop-in centres for support.
Use of foodbanks by seniors in Ontario has jumped 10 percent in the last year. At Haven Toronto, the only drop-in centre in Canada dedicated to elder men age 50+, the number of meals served has increased 20 percent in four years.
In an aging society – there are more seniors in Canada than people under fifteen - seniors are often some of the first and the most impacted.
Lauro Monteiro is the Executive Director of Haven Toronto, a Toronto drop-in centre that serves thousands annually and sees 250 to 400 clients a day.
Monteiro says, “Cost of living and rents have skyrocketed. Renovictions are on the rise. And despite investment by the Federal government, CPP and Old Age benefits have not kept up with the rate of inflation and the cost of living.”
Adds Monteiro, “As a result, organizations like ours are seeing more homeless seniors.”
A late-2018 report points to housing costs as the single biggest factor forcing people to seek help. 89 percent of food bank users are rental or social housing tenants and they spend the vast majority of their income keeping a roof over their head.
Michael Maidment, chair of the Ontario Association of Food Banks says, "Many seniors are on a fixed income and essentially all costs, including housing and even things like food, have increased dramatically.”
"If rent consumes as much as 70 per cent of your income,” continues Maidment, “there's little left over for anything else, like transit or food.”
Food prices are expected to rise upwards of 3.5 percent this year. Vegetables by as much as 6 percent.
A closer look shows even more startling increases. In less than six months, the price of celery has jumped almost 125 percent. And while corn has hit an historical low in terms of supply, the price is expected to hit a five year high, when it finally makes its way to stores. There is a shortage of corn and other produce at retail leaving shelves in some chains sitting empty.
Ontario's changing workforce with a rise in part-time jobs, contract work and precarious employment, means seniors, people approaching retirement and even those who are just starting their careers have less to save and are increasingly falling below the poverty line.
Haven Toronto’s clients have been impacted by poverty and homelessness.
The drop-in centre serves thousands annually and grows by almost 400 clients a year, an average of one new client a day. Last Friday, Haven Toronto registered 6 new clients in a single day surge.
Lauro Monteiro says, “We know there are more seniors who could benefit from our services. Seniors who are shut-ins and socially isolated. Seniors who are falling through the cracks.”
While clients can and do regularly utilize the onsite nurse and counsellors at Haven Toronto, and benefit from a clothing room, laundry and showers, it’s the volume of meals served that rings loudest. 55,000 meals in the last year, a number that has grown 20 percent since 2015.
Haven Toronto has been operating for 86 years. The drop-in centre, located on Jarvis at Shuter, is open 365 days a year.