Food at the market generally too expensive for annual Welfare Food Challenge (Maxpexel photo) Food at the market generally too expensive for annual Welfare Food Challenge (Maxpexel photo)

Welfare Food Challenge cancelled as rent rates leave $5.75 per week for food

With increasing rent on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, welfare rates would leave less than $6 a week for participants in the advocacy challenge

The rental market in Metro Vancouver has caused such expensive rates for the most vulnerable that organizers behind the annual Welfare Food Challenge have been forced to cancel it this year.

The reason: It’s nearly impossible to live off less than $6 a week.

The challenge, which started back in 2013 by Raise the Rates, involves participants trying to eat off welfare rates to raise awareness of the extreme difficulties British Columbians living in poverty face day-to-day.

Participants were given $19 a week last year, but since then average rent costs for single room occupancy (SRO) units in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have increased by about $100, which takes a larger chunk of the $710 someone on income assistance receives each month.

Once personal hygiene, phone and bus fare are calculated in, only about $23 a month, or $5.75 per week, is left to spend on food.

$5.75 is what participants in the Welfare Food Challenge would have left to spend on food after basic costs. (Kristi Patton/Black Press Media)

“It is inhumane, cruel and appalling,” Kell Gerling, one of the event organizers, said during a news conference earlier this month.

To announce the challenge each year, Gerling and the other organizers also launch a cookbook with recipes that can be made by those facing such a tight budget. But this year, the book is empty.

“SRO’s are supposed to be where people on welfare are able to find affordable housing, but mostly the conditions in SRO’s are absolutely despicable and still they are paying $687 for rent,” she said.

In 2017, B.C.’s NDP government increased welfare by $100 a month – the first increase in nearly a decade.

But Gerling said the problem stems from the rent being tied to the unit and not the tenant, meaning that landlords were able to increase rates after seeing the boost to welfare.

“So this year, we can’t possibly ask somebody to voluntarily live off $5.75 in a week total for food,” Gerling said.

In September, as part of their 30-point housing plan, the province announced a 2.5 per cent rental increase cap in 2019.

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