Canadians are being eaten up by poverty

Roughly one in 10 households nationwide is food-insecure. among those most at risk are renters, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, and families with young children.

Nick Benjamin and his family are among them.

The Manitoban lives with his wife and five children. Though he makes a good salary, it falls short when they have seven mouths to feed and his wife is ineligible for disability assistance due to his income.

The Benjamin family also feels the strain of inflation.

“I’m not sure we’ll have food at the end of the month because prices go up each time we shop,” he says.

While food banks can relieve some pressure, they only offer so much: even after a visit to the local food bank, Benjamin has nothing more than the minimum to feed his family at lunch and dinner.

“There’s no snacking, and it hurts because the kids are growing and need those,” he says

Low-income families are tired of what they consider to fluff: the cycle of debates, consultations, studies, reports and unfulfilled promises — none of which fill stomachs, writes Spencer van Vloten @BcDisability. #poverty #cdnpoli #EndDisabilityPoverty

Without fresh groceries for another week, the race is on to see if their supply lasts until the next trip to the store.

The worry is overwhelming the Benjamin family.

“I am tired of it,” he says. “The harder I work, the more out of range things get.”

A cupboard at Brandi’s Tycholaz’s Vancouver apartment. Photo supplied by Brandi Tycholaz
Brandi Tycholaz’s fridge — on a good day. Sometimes all she has to eat is a single pack of yogurt. Photo supplied by Brandi Tycholaz

It’s 6 pm, dinner time for Vancouver’s Brandi Tycholaz.

She opens the fridge door and grabs her meal for the night: a small pack of yogurt.

Leaving two other packs in the fridge — her breakfast, lunch and dinner over the next few days — she takes a seat.

The yogurt has expired and exudes a familiar sour stench. A cup of starchy macaroni completes her meal.

After just a few spoonfuls, she is finished and her empty stomach growls indignantly.

“I am starving,” she replies with a shrug.

This is what life is like for Tycholaz and thousands of low-income Canadians.

To see why, just do the math.

Imagine you have $2,000 monthly to live on.

Rent averages nearly $2,000 a month Nationwide and “affordable” housing can run over $1,000.

Your money is nearly gone from rent alone, and to avoid freezing or living in the dark like a cave dweller, you have other bills to pay, too.

With what remains, all you can afford to eat are a few items off the grocery store bargain shelf.

And even those are drifting out of range as costs rise.

“With the inflation on everything, it is getting to be too much. Some days I go with nothing at all, says Tycholaz.

Into the dumpster

Ken Birkin often gets just one meal a day. Photo supplied by Ken Birkin
A typical meal is a plate of shredded lettuce or a bowl of ramen. Photo supplied by Ken Birkin

Ken Birkin knows all about the struggles faced by Brandi Tycholaz and the Benjamin family.

The 62-year-old from North Vancouver, who operates a small business making balloons, has a monthly shopping budget of $60.

With that, he can afford just one meal a day — sometimes a plate of shredded lettuce, other times a bowl of ramen.

Instead of looking ahead to outings with family, his life is about surviving day-to-day, meal-to-meal, check-to-cheque.

But those check amounts are staying the same while costs rise. He’s feeling the impact.

Birkin has hardened bone infection, diabetes and mental health pressures. He struggles to walk, even after losing 125 pounds. He is stressed and frustrated.

“They have thrown me into the dumpster,” he says.

Care is the word

Birkin’s story sums up what food insecurity does to a person.

Canadians living in food-insecure households are vulnerable to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis. They die earlier than their better-fed counterparts.

Food insecurity also contributes to depression, anxiety and suicidal ideationall of which relative increase to the level of food insecurity experienced.

Why is this happening all over Canada?

Recent inflation is part of the explanation, but at the root is the ongoing failure to effectively address poverty.

While many poverty-reduction proposals are made, few of the most notable ones are implemented.

Advocates demand major increases to provincial social assistance, the elimination of “spousal caps” and more non-market housing — particularly relevant when nearly half of Canadians say housing costs are their biggest obstacle to affording food.

Federally, there has been much discussion of a guaranteed basic income, and the Liberal Party of Canada voted in favor of such a policy at its 2021 party convention.

The federal government also promoted the introduction of a Canada Disability Benefit, an income supplement available to everyone on disability assistance.

But little of this has come to fruition, and Birkin, Tycholaz and Benjamin are tired of what they consider fluff: the cycle of debates, consultations, studies, reports and unfulfilled promises — none of which fill stomachs.

What they want is action: implement policies that recognize Canadians need more help as costs soar.

Measures at the start of the pandemic — such as federal supplements for families and provincial boosts for persons on social assistance — helped achieve this, and accordingly, food insecurity dropped during fall 2020.

It was a game-changer for Tycholaz, who received an extra $300 a month from the BC government.

“It was wonderful. We really needed it.”

It also showed that governments could act quickly when they wanted to, but these measures were short-lived, while poverty lives on.

Canadians like Tycholaz, Birkin and Benjamin continue to go hungry, and the gap between the costs of living and the means they have to live on is widening.

As Tycholaz spoons at her empty yogurt pack and reflects on the situation, she notes that one critical element is missing: care.

“Politicians can start by showing me they care, but right now, they aren’t doing that. Maybe they need to live in our shoes until they know what it’s like to go hungry.”

Spencer van Vloten is a community advocate and nationally published writer from Vancouver. He edits the community news websites and, and has been awarded the British Columbia Medal of Good Citizenship and the City of Vancouver Award of Excellence.

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