BOSS Bay Area is reigniting the conversation centering on hunger and homelessness.
Each night, tens of millions of our fellow Americans go hungry. That’s plain wrong - What we lack isn’t food or resources; we lack the political will and moral courage to act. The COVID pandemic showed that hunger isn’t just a problem for someone else. Anyone can struggle with it within the blink of an eye. Jim McGovern
According to Feeding America, hunger can affect people from all walks of life. Millions of people in America are just one job loss, missed paycheck, or medical emergency away from need. But hunger doesn't affect everyone equally - some groups like children, seniors, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color face hunger at much higher rates. Hunger also most often affects our neighbors who live in poverty.
To speak to U.S. Representative Jim McGovern’s point, resources and accessibility are not why individuals and families go to bed hungry, so why does this happen to millions of Americans every night? Some of our most vulnerable seem to agree in sentiment with Representative McGovern.
Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) had a unique opportunity to host a Listening Session at one of their emergency shelter programs in West Berkeley (California), where single adults and families reside. Also participating were clients from a couple of BOSS's other temporary housing programs in Oakland, other unhoused individuals from local homeless encampments, and some living in RVs near the Berkeley housing program who joined in on the discussion of food hunger and government assistance programs.
Community Kitchens reached out to BOSS to hold a community Listening Session on hunger, government food assistance programs, and ideas about how to make communities healthier.
Community Kitchens conducted the Listening Sessions with Chicago Global Affairs and World Central Kitchen in preparation for the White House’s Conference on Hunger and Health in September 2022. The goal is to bring local voices (at least 20 -30 people who have experienced hunger, participated in government food assistance programs, and have ideas about how to make their community healthier) to the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September. Participants did not have to provide personal information, and their privacy was respected. The entire session was recorded. The data from the Listening Session will be used to inform policy recommendations in a report shared with the Biden Administration before the Conference. The last conference was held in 1969 and led to many programs like SNAP, WIC, and the School Breakfast program.
On Tuesday, June 21st, BOSS gathered clients, nearby homeless from encampments and RV dwellers, and from our various programs to participate in the nationwide Listening Session with an incentive to participate by receiving a $50 grocery gift card. The topics included where did they get their food from? How was their experience dealing with government programs? What would they tell the White House about hunger and food accessibility? The findings from the sessions were not surprising, but questions continue to arise for those who make policies that help build and create healthier families by the types of food and nutrition they have access to each day.
According to the most recent count of unhoused, the 2022 Berkeley Point-In-Time Count (Unsheltered & Sheltered Report) summary, 55% are chronically homeless in Berkeley, and 36% are chronically homeless in Oakland. In the city of Berkeley, 11% are unsheltered, and 10% are sheltered; in the city of Oakland, 47% of individuals are unsheltered, and 66% are sheltered, meaning they are in an emergency shelter or transitional housing programs where they receive some government subsidy.
When you have a limited monthly income (mainly government) and have to make every dollar stretch, getting food (sometimes healthy) becomes strategically essential but not impossible. There was a consensus amongst those participating in the sessions that most depend on community resources for everything from food to clothing to other basic needs and that they have no problem eating daily.
Most meals or food are treated with care, but some meals are undesirable and lack safety and care. Finding themselves at the local food bank, churches, non-profit organizations, and other places almost seem commonplace among our unhoused communities and many of our housed community members.
A lot of the discussion pivoted towards affordable housing and its lack (equally essential to have a safe, secure place to call home). Everyone who participated in the listening session is on a meager income and works with housing navigators to help them secure permanent housing. We found out that many deficient income people have some mental disability that doesn’t allow them to be as mobile (or creative) as they would like. Some have indicated living in areas (called food deserts) where healthy food is not available in their neighborhoods, where they have to travel quite always to get to the grocery store or visit an outdoor market where produce is sold have had a hard time accessing foods that are nutritional and affordable. Markets also allow them to use their EBT (or SNAP/WIC) cards to purchase fruit and vegetables that don’t require a stove to prepare.
In conclusion, the listening sessions provided actual voices about food; the challenges faced when accessing food, the role of government, and how to have healthier communities overall, even if you are low income, housing, and food insecure.
The BOSS Development Department staff wrote the summary.
Facts about hunger in America
The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic.
Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support.
Hunger in African American, Latino, and Native American communities is higher because of systemic racial injustice. To achieve a hunger-free America, we must address the root causes of hunger and structural and systemic inequities.
For more information about BOSS' Housing Services, visit here.