‘There's never been higher poverty’: food security, housing & affordability will be focus of Food Banks Mississauga’s mayoral debate 
(Food Banks Mississauga) 

‘There's never been higher poverty’: food security, housing & affordability will be focus of Food Banks Mississauga’s mayoral debate 

During the month of March, Food Banks Mississauga served over 19,000 individuals, the same number of users the food bank used to see in one year prior to the pandemic. It was the largest single-month figure since the organization launched nearly four decades ago. 

“We are now at the point where we are seeing the same number of people in a month as we used to see in the entire year,” Meghan Nicholls, CEO of Food Banks Mississauga, told The Pointer. “And we continue to project that by the end of May, we will be at a total of 8 percent of the city using the food bank.”

“About 58,000 people will have used it in total in 12 months,” she said — up from 36,000 users reported by the organization during the same period last year, marking a 60 percent increase. 

The organization’s CEO has repeatedly stressed that food banks can not be the solution to the city’s affordability crisis — and the ongoing food insecurity emergency — which is well beyond what the organization can manage. The approximately 58,000 residents who used the food bank  over the last year was a disturbing increase compared to the 19,525 clients who came through its doors prior to the pandemic. 

The lack of affordability is a challenge Mississauga’s next leader will step into.  

A report to the Region of Peel in the fall revealed that 111,925 residents (8 percent) of the population live in poverty. In 2023, “based on the Canadian Income Survey, it is projected that 25.6 percent of households in Peel will be severely food insecure.” 

The number one reason people are turning to food banks, Nicholls previously told The Pointer, is the lack of affordable housing. Incomes are too low to keep up with other essential needs as well. Previous reports from the organization revealed that 37 percent of the clients using the food bank are single-person households who live with low income. Meanwhile, according to sales tracking data from the Toronto Real Estate Board (TRREB), the average sale price of all dwelling types in Mississauga as of April was $1,126,060. 

Food Banks Mississauga has continually stressed that without government intervention, pushing the responsibility onto the backs of support services like food banks — which were initially meant to be a short-term solution — is unsustainable.

“We know that right now people are spending so much on housing that there isn't enough left over for food,” Nicholls said. “Then even to add to that the price of food due to inflation has gone up so high, so rapidly.”

This issue hits home for many Mississauga residents who are looking to their next leader for support.

“There's never been higher poverty or food bank usage or homelessness in Mississauga than there is right now. So I think this is a critical election for the community,” Nicholls told The Pointer. “Do we elect someone as mayor who is looking to the future and recognizing that these are the challenges of the coming generations, and that the way we've traditionally done things can't be the way we do things going forward to meet the challenges we have in front of us now?”


Food Banks Mississauga CEO Meghan Nicholls says the upcoming mayoral election is critical for the community and the future of the organization.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files) 


Three things that are top of mind for Food Banks Mississauga heading into the June 10 vote to determine the city’s next mayor are income security, affordable housing and food security. These issues will be the key points of a conversation with candidates on May 23 when Food Banks Mississauga will bring four of the city’s mayoral hopefuls — Stephen Dasko, Alvin Tedjo, Dipika Damerla and Brian Crombie, selected based on criteria that included having a platform on poverty alleviation and who received a minimum of 5 percent support in the latest Liaison Strategies poll — under one roof to discuss their plans to address these factors that contribute to food security and in turn, the rising numbers in food banks users the organization continues to see.  

Heading into the election, Nicholls said the organization is looking for an overall approach from Mississauga’s next leader that prioritizes the needs of those who are most vulnerable in the community. That will include looking at whether the candidates’ policies are geared towards homeowners who pay property taxes, or if their focus and plans are directed towards people in the community who are struggling to find affordable rental or who may be newcomers to Mississauga and are not as established.

In responses to The Pointer, Dasko, Tedjo, Carolyn Parrish, Damerla and George Tavares each pledged to continue to support Food Banks Mississauga. Specifically, Tedjo said he will continue to look for opportunities through both private fundraising and additional support from the Region to support our local food banks, also referencing the motion he moved last November at the Region of Peel to double the Region’s support, providing an additional $2 million to local food banks. In his response, Dasko said, as mayor, he would advocate for more funding from the Region. Damerla said she plans to build on former mayor Bonnie Crombie’s annual food drive by leveraging public/private partnerships to assist the organization. 

On top of continuing her annual fundraiser events that support the smaller branches of Food Banks Mississauga and contribute to lunch and summer camp programs, Parrish also said she will continue with Crombie’s traditional mayor’s food drive fundraiser. While still on council, Parrish also said in October she would like to work with the organization to secure a permanent facility — something the mayoral candidate confirmed to The Pointer she remains committed to. 

Tavares proposed a plan that includes several responses, including financial support by allocating additional funds — like the car allowance provided to city councillors — from the municipal budget and redirecting them to the food bank; partnerships and collaborations with local business, community organizations and residents to increase donations and fundraising efforts; raising awareness by launching campaigns to the highlight Food Banks Mississauga’s work and the need in the community; and advocating for policies and programs at all levels of government “that address food insecurity and poverty, which are root causes of the increased demand for the Food Bank's services,” among others.  

But the monetary donations and fundraisers, while appreciated, are not going to solve the crisis, as food banks cannot mend the structural issues causing the affordability crisis. 

Nicholls previously told The Pointer the scale and scope of the work requires more advanced planning and long-term strategic investments. In a recent conversation, she once again stressed the need for policy change and reform from upper levels of government to address the deep-rooted problems of the affordability crisis.

Currently, Nicholls says the organization is planning its future operations on the assumption that the numbers will not be going down. She says the Food Bank is ramping up to ensure it can meet the demand and that may mean giving less per person as the numbers continue to rise, to ensure the organization can provide something to everyone in need.  

“Affordable housing has definitely been top of mind,” the CEO said. “And I've been really pleased to see how many of the debates and meetings and conversations that are happening are talking about affordable housing. I think the question we're really going to be asking is ‘what does affordable mean to you? What is our definition of affordable?’”

“Where's the housing being built that can be afforded by a regular person?”

Nicholls says while each of the candidates is addressing affordability, housing and food security, the primary focus for her during Thursday’s debate will be on ‘how’ they are practically going to help tackle these problems. 

As a not-for-profit organization, Food Banks Mississauga relies heavily on support from donors and community organizations to feed the community.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files) 


There traditionally has been a lack of funding for food banks and social support programs, and without government intervention at all levels, the current situation is only going to become more severe. Nicholls previously told The Pointer the absence of policy change has “mandated...people to live in poverty,” by not increasing social assistance programs — the Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program — and failing to create more affordable housing over the years, while few policies have been introduced to ensure livable wages. 

Mississauga’s rapid growth has not been accompanied by fair share funding for a range of needs, including housing, which higher levels of government have to provide. 

Municipalities do not have a lot of pull when it comes to implementing policy changes that would get at the root causes of food insecurity, but they can, at the regional level — where provincial support programs are delivered — propose changes to current funding mechanisms, including pouring more revenues into Peel’s housing file which oversees several supportive programs, as well as other services provided to residents.  

“We've seen over the past couple of years with kind of the back and forth between [former] mayor Crombie and Premier [Doug] Ford that cities do play a role in advocating to the provincial level,” Nicholls said. “And so I'm looking for a partner in the mayor's office who is going to be advocating with the province and with the federal government for the things their community needs, like wages, affordable housing, social assistance, and all those things that make communities more livable for everyone.”  

“I want to make sure that the mayor also remembers the influence they have at the regional policy level as well.” 

As some candidates pointed out in their responses, in an attempt to try and address the crisis, the Region approved $2 million in temporary funding for food security last fall as permanent base funding in the Region’s 2024 budget. Councillors also approved an increase of $3 million to the Community Investment Program to be included in the 2024 budget to address increased demand and inflation in “the non-profit sector [and] continuing demand in food security.” The program’s breakdown included a $500,000 investment to address food security. These are just some of the steps that can be taken to support the organization at the municipal level. 

But Nicholls also pointed to instances where regional council has not spent all the money that has been allotted to them for individuals who rely on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, then approach the food bank at the end of the year to pass off the remaining funds, which leaves the organization in a difficult position without sustained support especially when demand is highest. 

She acknowledged while there was a time where fundraising campaigns were enough to take care of the need in the community, that need has since shifted and the organization is now “collectively looking for policy change and non-charitable interventions that will bring more economic justice to people that they don't have to rely on charities to have their basic needs met.”

While funds and food collected through the year for the organization help to meet the immediate need, it is not enough to accommodate demand or a sustainable long-term response. Previous reporting from The Pointer revealed that just over three years ago, the organization required roughly $3 million in revenue from charitable donations annually, but that number has since climbed to over $8 million a year. 

Nicholls has continuously underscored that food banks do not want long-term funding for themselves. The solution to ending the crisis instead lies in pouring funding into social assistance programs to increase monthly incomes to bring people out of poverty. While food banks have taken on the weight of the current landscape to meet the demand, the Food Banks Mississauga CEO has said these organizations — meant to be temporary — can not be the solution. 

“It’s about that approach and a focus for the incoming mayor,” Nicholls explained. “Are they facing towards the future and acknowledging the gritty facts of what exists in our community? And what will it take to deal with it? Or are they trying to return to a bygone era? 

“And I think that's really evident in even some of the housing conversations right now,” she added. “Are people trying to cater to the needs of the single, detached dwelling with a lawn and the front of the lawn and the back? Or are they trying to make this a livable community, that includes people who've already lived in Mississauga and live in those homes, but also make space for new community members to join.”

The mayoral debate hosted by Food Banks Mississauga will take place May 23 at 7 p.m. at the organization’s warehouse, located at 4544 Eastgate Parkway in Mississauga. It will offer a chance for residents to discuss their priorities with candidates. The debate is being held “to ensure that poverty alleviation, including income and housing security, and food security are key platform issues for Mississauga mayoral candidates.” For more information about the event, and to register, visit the organization’s website.  



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