Befuddlement greets surge in food bank use

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Bread is bagged at the Prince Albert Share-a-Meal Food Bank.

A record number of people are using the Prince Albert Share-a-Meal Food Bank and there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for the spike in use.

 

Soup kitchen use has increased by about 40 per cent over the past year, representing 6,183 more meals served, food bank co-manager Wes Clarke said.

About 6,131 food hampers were handed out this past year, which represents a 15 per cent increase over the previous year.

Having talked it over with city administration and members of social services, Mayor Greg Dionne said that he’s befuddled by the surge in food bank use.

“Unless we got an influx of transients, they can’t figure it out themselves,” he said of those he spoke with.

“There has been nothing major that would change that … Everyone I talked to can’t understand it.”

Last week, Clarke said that the surge in food bank use might be a result of ever-rising rental prices.

Click HERE for last week's food bank story. 

There might be some weight to this theory, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s latest findings, which use numbers from October.

Between October 2012 and October 2013, the average private rental price in Prince Albert jumped from $798 a month to $825.

Oddly enough, Prince Albert also boasted the province’s highest vacancy rates during this time, jumping from six per cent to 10.3 per cent for private structures with three or more apartments.

“I think the cost of living is also on the increase,” Clarke said this week. “We have gas and petrol going up, which in turn results in bigger prices in the stores -- It’s an incremental up all the way around.”

Last year also saw every city resident’s municipal property taxes go up by $189 to pay for the new roadways base tax -- an amount property owners will ultimately pass onto renters.

Battlefords District Food and Resource Centre manager Bill Hall noted that as people’s paycheques are stretched wider and wider, the purchase of food is quick to fall by the wayside.

“Food is the one thing that people can play around with – the food budget,” he said. “Energy, electricity, telephone and other things -- those are fixed costs.”

Moose Jaw and District Food Bank manager Terri Smith said that her organization last saw a surge in use a few years ago when there were major job losses in the area.

“Whenever you see unemployment rates go up, that tends to hurt a few people,” she said, noting that with employment remaining fairly level at the moment they’re seeing static food bank use.

There has been nothing major that would change that … Everyone I talked to can’t understand it. Mayor Greg Dionne

Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert said that there haven’t been any drastic changes on the Prince Albert job availability front, lately. 

“There hasn’t been anything significant in terms of anything that I’m aware of,” he said. “There hasn’t been any significant job loss that’s resulted in financial constraints.”

Unemployment levels in Prince Albert were 6.3 per cent in 2013, which is actually lower than 2012’s 7.8 per cent.

However, during this same timeframe the number of people employed in the Prince Albert area remained the same, at 22,400, indicating that people are either moving away or have given up on finding employment.

This is where greater intervention is needed, Riverbank Development Corporation manager Brian Howell said.

Many of those living on minimum wage are struggling to make ends meet and might not know about all of the government programming that is available to them.  

With government incentives they “could be picking up a couple extra hundred dollars a month,” Howell said, adding that this might make it so they no longer have to use the food bank.  

With more readily available job counsellors they might also be better able to transition into more meaningful and well-paying employment.

“Once people get going and everybody has a better job, then they get away from needing any help,” he said. “That’s where I’d like to see things change a bit more.”

Right now, the Prince Albert Share-a-Meal Food Bank needs help, Howell said.

“Poverty is out there, rents are rising, so lots of people are in straitened circumstances – they’re struggling to pay the bills so they’re ending up at the food bank.

“They feed a lot of people through their meal program and then through their hampers – they just need more community support.”

Still worried about what he anticipates will be a surge in use over the summer above the current unexpected surge, Clarke said that the Prince Albert Share-a-Meal Food Bank is planning a fundraiser for the near future.

For more on the Prince Albert Share-a-Meal Food Bank, visit their website online at www.pafoodbank.ca.

The Daily Herald will continue to follow this story as it progresses.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Meal Food Bank Battlefords District Food Resource Centre Moose Jaw and District Food Bank Riverbank Development Daily Herald

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  • yeah right
    April 16, 2014 - 16:08

    So according to this article everyone in pa rents bachlor or one bedroom apartments anyone with children is paying 1200 to 2600 dollars a month for rental costs and even if most people were able to get a mortgage loan they would still have to pay at least 1000 a month because house costs are skyrocketing