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Food security a growing challenge in Sooke

‘This isn’t going to get any better if we don’t do anything about it’
A report on food security in Sooke reveals that nearly 15 per cent of people in Sooke have trouble getting food on the table. (The Canadian Press)

A report on food security in Sooke reveals that nearly 15 per cent of people in Sooke have trouble getting food on the table. And as many as 28 per cent said they couldn’t afford nutritious food.

“Poverty is the real issue around food security,” said Sooke Coun. Tony St-Pierre, and with the rising housing costs, the first thing to go is food, no matter what neighbourhood you’re in.

“People think it’s a trailer park and tent issue. It’s not. It affects close to everyone these days,” he said.

The report, commissioned by the District of Sooke as part of a poverty reduction strategy and funded by the Union of B.C. Municipalities outline the complex factors that contribute to food insecurity. It was presented to Sooke council on June 14 by report authors Christine Bossi and Martin Bissig.

Bossi and Bissig conducted surveys, reviewed statistical data and incorporated national research to illustrate the complexity of what causes food insecurity and how it impacts people in Sooke.

“I started with a food security report, and it ended up being a poverty reduction report,” Bossi said. “It’s so complex. The main point, though, is that people are just lacking the funds to eat properly.”

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Even though food is essential for everyone, in practical terms, it’s a variable expense and is the last priority after other bills, the foremost being rent.

Second to cash flow, transportation is the next most significant factor. Lots of survey respondents talked about going to the West Shore to get more affordable bulk food. In town, a map shows that some places in Sooke are a 40-minute walk to a grocery store, leaving people without a car reliant on public transit, taxis or sharing rides from others.

One recommendation from the report is hiring a food security navigator. Knowing where and how to get help can be overwhelming for people who are likely already stressed to the edge, not to mention the stigma that clings to asking for support.

“Some people don’t even realize they need help, so to have someone who can say, ‘This is your right to have these benefits, this can happen to anyone’,” Bossi said.

St-Pierre said that having bus passes, affordable accommodation, and basic food are baselines to reducing poverty and associated problems. Referring to places like the recent Beacon Hill tent city, or Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where he used to work, he said, “When poor people gather together, it’s because they can’t get food and they can’t get transportation, so they go where the food is. Or they can’t get transport to medical help, so they go where medical services are and stay there.

“If you have a safe supply of food and a bus pass, you won’t have problems like that.” Add affordable housing, and people won’t need to concentrate in one place but can live in different communities, which is healthier for all, he said.

As for what Sooke can do, St-Pierre wants to see a regional food policy council that can push for policies among all levels of government and organizations that make more sense for locals.

He cited a European policy that required grocery stores to discount food that was close to expiring, so people with smaller budgets could clear out the shelves — also diverting food from landfills. That’s a policy change that requires several levels of political involvement.

The Official Community Plan is another tool that, through zoning, can invite more diverse housing stock, so there are options for all price points.

“This isn’t going to get any better if we don’t do anything about it,” Bossi said.

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