A community group in Vancouver’s West End is confident that it will be able to launch a new program to provide healthy meals for young people — residents who until now have received far less attention than the area’s low-income seniors.
As well as providing free, healthy meals to up to 15 people a week, Gordon Neighbourhood House will provide a space to talk with young people about the challenges they face in eating well.
“Being hungry is really terrible, it has profound negative impacts on your health, it has profound negative impacts on your ability to learn, it has profound negative impacts on your ability to interact socially,” said the coordinator of the program, Andrew Christie.
Gordon applied for funding to several organizations throughout the fall to host a weekly community kitchen for young adults who have been found to feel unsafe attending similar programs in the east end. It should find out in December if it has secured the support, which would allow it to launch Youth at the Table in January.
Currently, the organization provides community lunches for West End residents struggling to afford healthy meals. But mostly only seniors turn up, even though young people make up half the population in the area.
Gordon is waiting to hear back from governments and agencies like the City of Vancouver, Inspirit Foundation and the United Way.
Bringing youth to the table
West End seniors frequent the neighbourhood house for its affordable lunch program.
Christie is confident the group will get some of the money as the new program fits with the city’s food strategy. Released in January 2013, the strategy emphasize making healthy and affordable food accessible to all residents.
Poverty and hunger have long been a concern in the West End where the average rent is $100 more per month than in the rest of the city. Residents’ income is about $9,000 less than the median city-wide.
Gordon has made younger people a priority, recognizing that young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 are also challenged by the high cost of rent, along with student debt, low-wage jobs and raising young children.
“Our own personal experience interacting with people in the West End (shows) that there is food insecurity among other groups aside from seniors,” said Samuel Mickelson, community initiatives supervisor at Gordon.
But information on who those groups are and precisely how many people they include is unclear.
Five per cent of Vancouverites experience financial barriers in accessing the food they need to survive, according to the food strategy.
About a third of West End residents live in low-income households, according to 2006 census data.
Last June, Gordon Neighbourhood House partnered with students from the University of British Columbia Immigrant Vancouver Ethnographic Field School to investigate the prevalence of hunger in the area.
Although the research didn’t determine the number of residents experiencing hunger, it uncovered some challenges individual residents face.
Avi Ames, a student researcher, found that many West End residents felt unsafe and vulnerable going to the Downtown Eastside for meal programs. Although some programs exist in the West End, Ames said residents either didn’t know about them or were excluded from them due to barriers like age restrictions or having a fixed address.
“The largest demographic that was between about 25 and 40 (years of age) were not represented in pretty much any of the programs we found in operation over the summer in the West End,” he said.
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