Poverty, Homelessness & Food Insecurity
At its simplest, poverty is a lack of sufficient financial resources to meet basic needs. Many factors shape how we understand poverty and what poverty looks like within a society. We know that a socioeconomic issue like poverty can affect many things in our lives, including:
- Housing and housing stability
- Access to food, and food insecurity
- Access to non-essential health care (dental & medication)
- Work opportunities
While their impact is huge and pervasive, wealth and poverty aren’t the only social determinants of health. Many other factors can affect our overall health.
A Brief Scenario
Andy’s family is low income, living in a poor neighbourhood in an old, damp two-bedroom apartment. Andy and their parents often have extended family members stay with them. Their mom works multiple jobs and long hours, and their dad has several health issues that mean he’s receiving social assistance.
Recently, Andy’s been having difficulty breathing and experiencing coughing fits that last most of the night, disrupting their sleep and leaving them tired and distracted at school and unable to work at their part-time job. When their mom is able to go with Andy to the walk-in clinic, they have to wait hours to see a doctor and are then referred to a different clinic for tests. It takes another couple of months for them to get a proper diagnosis of moderate to severe asthma. One of the numerous doctors they see tells Andy they need to avoid mold as this can trigger asthma; the doctor also recommends they change their diet.
It’s easy to see how several factors, including their housing situation – a damp apartment likely with mold throughout – have impacted Andy’s health and will make it very challenging to manage or improve their health.
What feelings come up for you when you reflect on Andy and their family’s experience with inadequate housing?
Many studies show that poor quality or unsafe housing, homelessness and food insecurity all have direct impacts on our health. We know that some Canadian homes, especially on Indigenous reserves, lack clean water and basic sanitation – and many are overcrowded.
We also know that those who are experiencing homelessness have a much higher rate of a wide range of physical health problems and mental health diagnoses than the general population.
“Poor housing conditions, including issues such as mould, overcrowding, and lack of affordability, have been associated with a wide range of health conditions, such as respiratory and other infectious diseases, chronic diseases (example, asthma), injuries, inadequate nutrition, adverse childhood development, and poor mental health outcomes”
~Key Health Inequalities Report
More and more, studies show that children who grow up in food insecure households are more likely to experience behavioural, emotional and academic problems than those who live in food secure homes. A poor diet (which is more common when people lack income and are food insecure) is linked to higher rates of chronic diseases and challenges in managing these diseases as well. Very often, mothers try to protect their children from the nutritional impact of food insecurity by cutting back their own food intake, which in turn impacts the mothers’ health.
We are currently living with a housing crisis in B.C., driven by a lack of affordable accommodation, a high and increasing cost of living, low social assistance income, an increase in part-time and insecure employment and other factors that relate to government policy. Its ongoing impact on the health of individuals is real and ongoing.
Have you or anyone close to you, been affected by the housing crisis in BC?