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So I could pat myself on the back and say "good job," numbers are going down, Whistler is doing OK.
But that doesn't make any of the people I see each open day looking for food feel any better about their situation. They don't want to hear that Whistler is doing better, that there are more jobs to be had, and that the numbers at the food bank are down. They are hurting, they can't put enough food on their table, and they are either unable to find work, aren't getting enough work to cover costs, or are unable to work for other reasons. How do we meet their needs?
During the recession the majority of people needing the food bank were seasonal workers. This makes sense. Since most of them are young adults they have less financial resources to fall back on, they fill the lowest paying jobs, and are first to be let go when Whistler enters its shoulder seasons or when businesses find they have over-hired for the season.
With the number of seasonal workers using our services down — many of our clients are now long-term Whistler citizens. In October of 2013, 17 per cent of food bank users had lived in Whistler for one to three years, 13 per cent had lived in Whistler three to10 years, and 25 per cent had lived in Whistler for over 10 years! Of course, October is not the best month to use as a lot of the transients don't arrive until November, but the number of clients using the food bank that have lived in Whistler over a year has been fairly high even through last winter and we have seen a lot more families accessing WCSS services in the last two years.
As we enter the winter season, housing continues to be a problem in Whistler. 12 per cent of food bank users when asked about their housing said they were currently couch-surfing (staying with a friend rent free temporarily), six per cent said they were camping or living in a vehicle, and four per cent were living in a hostel and the high cost of rent often comes up in conversations about why someone is accessing the food bank.
Whistler has done a lot to address housing, particularly for the middle-income earners through WHA own and rental units but there is still a need for social housing and more short-term emergency housing. When compared to other places in the world food is cheap in Canada, but housing costs are high. So to help end hunger, we have to address housing.
So why do people use the food bank? Underemployment continues to be the number one reason cited whether it is the slow season or mid winter. Behind underemployment is unemployment, this can be people new to town and looking for work and it taking longer than they thought, or it can be people who have been laid off recently or returning to the work force after a leave of absence.