Health Starts at Home – Food Security and Social Housing

On December 5th, 2013 BCAHL hosted a webinar on the ways that food security is and can be addressed in social housing. We were so pleased to have three engaging presenters who offered their perspectives on some of the current policy, research and programs on housing and food security.

BCAHL believes that good health starts at home and in the communities in which people live. Social housing is important for ensuring that some of the more vulnerable people in our communities have affordable housing.  However, tenants of social housing are much more susceptible to food insecurity.

A minimum of 11% of households in BC experience food insecurity. The proportion of food insecure households in social housing is up to 7 times higher than that. This is the reason why looking at ways to increase food security in social housing presents an opportunity to address a critical health issue for a vulnerable population group.

So how can we increase access to healthy food and remove barriers for people in need? As usual there is not one single answer, but a need for different sectors and partners to open the discussion and work together to improve health.

Lianne Carley (Population Health, Vancouver Coastal Health) provided an overview of food security in social housing and presented Vancouver Coastal Health’s recently released Action Framework and Resource Guide for food security in social housing.  She said that food insecurity is estimated to affect up to 70% of tenants in social housing. She also described how the research shows food insecurity has an impact on:

• physical health,
• mental health,
• child development and
• food insecurity in childhood can have an impact on health into adulthood.

For all of our reports, including the Action Framework and Resource Guide, please visit the VCH web page for Food Security in Social Housing.

If you are interested in receiving updates on food security in social housing initiatives, contact Lianne to be added to the email distribution list.

If you have any comments or questions regarding:

  1. The Action Framework and Resource Guide — in particular, if we were to expand a section of the Guide, which section do you think is a priority, why, and what kind of additional info do you think is needed (and in what kind of format to maximize user-friendliness).
  2. A province-wide Collaborative on Food Security in Social Housing — if we were to create this, what do you see as the purpose of this Collaborative, the focus and format of this Collaborative, and any other thoughts on this idea.
  3. Any other thoughts re: food security in social housing and what kind of action you think is required to address this issue.

Contact: Lianne Carley:

Judy Walsh, the Tenant Support Worker at the Nanaimo Affordable Housing Society (NAHS) described how as a housing provider NAHS has developed successful programs to improve the food security of their residents. Their ‘Six Easy Pieces’ Cooking Class involves six people in six sessions with six different menus.  Participants worked in pairs to learn simple recipes, the preparation of a full meal and leave with a container of leftovers to take home.  She also described how all NAHS buildings now have tenant gardens and how the tenants have started a food buying club to share the cost of purchasing food items in bulk.

BC Housing Regional Operations Manager, Michael Kierszenblat spoke about the link between food insecurity and the tenants they house and how they have provided skills and resources to BC Housing tenants through the People, Plants and Homes and other Community Development programs.  As well as partnerships with NGOs to run community kitchens and community gardens, he also described a popular mobile produce market. The markets are held just prior to cheque day, when tenant finances are stretched thin. To make these markets more accessible, wooden market tokens are pre-sold to tenants, usually just after income assistance cheque day.

We were delighted that the 90+ participants of the webinar were so engaged – which was obvious from the stream of questions that followed each presenter, requests for presentations and an announcement about a Food Security Conference planned for March 2014.  We look forward to further discussion and action about how we can work together to end hunger in our communities!