an involuntary state of food insufficiency resulting from financial and economic constraints
Critical Issue #6: Food Insecurity
A Washington State University study (conducted in 2020) found that 34% of Pierce County households were food insecure. Critical disparities were found based on income, education, race, and marital status. The pandemic continues to stress the network of food banks, shelters. and other meal programs scrambling to fill the gap.
Why is food an issue?
- Unsheltered people seldom have access to food preparation areas or safe ways to store food
- Gathering food (and most other supplies) is difficult while carrying essential personal belongings
- Some food banks work hard to provide nutritious food that does not need to be cooked – but this is not most of what is donated
- Uncoordinated emergency food distribution programs are problematic:
- Several agencies or individuals may distribute food on the street on the same days or at similar times, followed by days where no one offers food.
- To be efficient, meals are often pre-packaged and people cannot select what they want or choose the amount they can consume before food will spoil.
- Without access to refrigeration or garbage services, unused food spoils and becomes garbage or rodent attraction
- Nutritional deficits for people experiencing homelessness are associated with higher rates of chronic conditions, hospitalization, emergency room visits and health problems in general (Baggett et al. 2011; Hamelin and Hamel 2009).
What Can We Do About Food Insecurity?
- Act locally
- Homelessness and food insecurity on the Key Peninsula
- Volunteer at local shelters, food banks, and other agencies (like the RISE Center and FOB) that provide food and water to unsheltered people
- Convert hotel rooms used as emergency shelters into living spaces with kitchens so that people can store and cook food for themselves.
- Create access to basic food safety items needed by unsheltered people, such as:
- food preparation space (this is more challenging than you might think)
- sanitizing solution for food prep and serving surfaces (whether or not there is a common food preparation area)
- rodent-proof storage containers for food and garbage
- coolers and ice
- Adapt our current patchwork of emergency food distribution to match the reality that food insecurity is an ongoing problem in need of a sustainable coordinated approach.
More about Food Insecurity
- Homeless and hungry: food insecurity in the land of plenty (research paper, 2020)
- Hunger and homelessness (state by state statistics)
- WAFOOD Brief 3 – Economic Security and Food Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Pierce County
- Need for free food in Washington state has doubled, many groups report, as COVID-19 rips away jobs and security (Seattle Times, Jan. 2, 2021)
Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.