Ottawa, ON – As hunger worsens in our community, The Ottawa Mission brought together its community partner Somerset West Community Health Centre and Councillor Catherine McKenney, Special Liaison for Housing and Homelessness to discuss rising food insecurity as a major consequence of the pandemic and options to address this.
The Mission launched it Mobile Mission Meals food truck project in the summer of 2020 with 5 stops serving 500 meals per week. Just over 9 months later, it has grown to 19 stops across the City of Ottawa and serves 3,000 meals per week. The Mission also has a waiting list of partners who want to join this program to serve the needs of their respective communities for accessible, healthy food.
In January 2020, just before the pandemic was declared, The Mission served just over 1,400 meals per day that month. Now the shelter is serving over 2,500 meals per day ― an increase of almost 80%. This also means that total number of meals served by the Mission over its last fiscal year (May 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021) was over 700,000.
“Every single day our truck goes out across Ottawa, and hundreds of people line up to receive the meals they need to survive. People line up in walkers, in wheelchairs, and with their kids. People who never had to worry about feeding themselves and their families until Covid-19 arrived come to our truck just to survive,” said the Mission’s Director of Food Services Chef Ric Allen-Watson.
“When we updated the community in November about this program, we had clients tell us that they go hungry, sometimes for days, until our truck comes. In a wealthy city like Ottawa and a wealthy country like Canada, this is wrong – just plain wrong,” Allen-Watson added.
Naini Cloutier, Executive Director of Somerset Health Community Health Centre, a community partner of the Mobile Mission Meal program, noted the relationship between the lack of affordable housing in Ottawa and the use of the Mission’s food truck program. “In our catchment area, almost 30% of residents are low-income – over twice the Ottawa average. People who are low-income often have to choose between paying their rent or feeding themselves and their children. This is especially true in our city given that rents rose 15% from 2014 – 2018, with affordable housing options increasingly scarce.”
Cloutier also noted the disproportionate impact of food insecurity on specific populations. “Our catchment area also has a higher proportion of Indigenous peoples, immigrants and newcomers, refugees, and Black and racialized residents than the Ottawa average. These factors are also very important since all of these populations have higher rates of food insecurity.”
Councillor McKenney pointed out how Covid-19 has impacted existing very serious issues within the community. “Before Covid-19 arrived in early 2020, our entire community was dealing with not one but 2 emergencies: the homelessness emergency and the opioid use emergency. The pandemic has magnified each of these through its devastating impacts on financial health, mental health, and increased risk of homelessness and hunger.”
However, McKenney also noted that the pandemic has shown that large-scale system changes can be enacted quickly to meet millions of people’s needs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and why this should be made permanent. “One of the reasons people fall into homelessness, hunger and despair is because they’re poor. In April of this year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer delivered a report that suggested that a universal basic income project could reduce poverty levels in Canada by almost half in just one year. Combined with enhanced government support at all levels for affordable housing and mental health, it would reduce homelessness, hunger, and mental distress.”
Peter Tilley, CEO of the Ottawa Mission, noted the continuing impact of Covid-19 across our community and how it will affect the shelter’s program delivery. “Given the overwhelming impact on our collective mental health, finances, food insecurity and risk of homelessness, we anticipate remaining the first place of refuge for increasing numbers of very vulnerable people going forward for several years after COVID has passed.”
Tilley concluded the press conference by noting that the Mission will continue to meet these needs while also advocating for large-scale system change. “We’re very fortunate that we can continue to raise funds to further expand this program and work with our community partners across the city of Ottawa to reach even more people in need. We’ll also continue to work together with our partners on city council, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill to enhance and make permanent needed government programs to help people rebuild their lives.”
About The Ottawa Mission
Since 1906, The Ottawa Mission has been serving the homeless, the hungry and the lost by providing food, clothing, shelter and skills. In 2019-2020, The Ottawa Mission provided emergency shelter to an average of 197 men every night and served an average of 1,422 meals every day. The Ottawa Mission also provides to men and women health services, mental health and addiction treatment programs, hospice care, dental services, housing services, educational support, job training, spiritual care, and clothing to thousands in need in our community. In September 2020, The Ottawa Mission marked the one millionth hour that the shelter has been in existence since its founding in 1906. In 2019, the Mission became a housing-focused shelter reflective of its commitment to a home for everyone as a human right with the launch of a new housing department.
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