Saturday, June 2, 2012

Report of Findings around Food & Nutrition

Hi Everyone this is the next segment in my Report of Findings from my time living in Canada's shelters. It is not so opinionated or entertaining as most of my blogs but, it is the truth and if you want to learn about how the homeless in Canada are living this is a must read. It is twice as long as the usual blog (really it is only eqaul to 4 typed pages). As I have said before nothing in this report is to be taken as an indictment of the shelter industry, everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances. But this is the reality and we have to own that. Feel free to comment and be kind on spelling and grammer, it is only the first draft. Have a joyus day Bonny

Meal Programs:  
Free Food:
           Meal programs vary widely depending on the source… but generally a person living homeless in Canada can expect meals to be very high in carbohydrate fillers, usually pasta, rice and potatoes in that order. Meat protein is included in very small quantities and is often of questionable origin (just meaning unrecognizable by sight or taste). There is equally limited access to the fiber provided by fresh vegetables or fruit. Grains are accessed through the use of day old (or 3 day old) bread products served dry (unbuttered).
          The least nutritious meals were provided at centres which serve multiple meals per day to a large client base. Such programs rely heavily on donated food and there are storage issues, a well as the problem of anticipating what will be needed, so many considerations effecting these programs, making it difficult to provide good meals on a regular basis. In these situations it is easier to grind up 100 lbs of pork into a pasta dish then it is to fry 400 pork cutlets. In an effort to prevent any waste all leftover meat is chopped or dumped together into a soup… which provides endless lunchtime entertainment (speculation).
          Next up the culinary food chain are facilities providing one meal per day or in some cases per week. This is often done by churches or benevolent societies. They do it once and generally provide more balance meals. Breakfast programs will include cereal with milk and/or egg in some form, toast, juice and or a piece of fruit and coffee. Lunch programs are where we see the term soup kitchen applied seriously. Low sodium soup served with a half sandwich or buttered roll/bread… juice (this term is applied loosely and includes powdered drink mixes) but the best places offer milk as an option. Dinner has an identifiable meat source and a couple of times a week you might even need to employ a plastic knife… potatoes show up more often; with sides of vegetables, the occasional wilty salad and from time to time even condiments.  In other words, something a little closer to what you would call a “home cooked” meal.  
          Some very good meals for the homeless were delivered at the smaller shelters, these were available only to people who were sleeping in their sleep programs. The Lookout shelter in Vancouver served three meals a day, to two seatings of 60 people each. The meals were always well balanced and nutritious with fresh fruit, cereal, milk and juice in the mornings; salad with lunch and meat with dinner. This was an acceptable option in Vancouver or Edmonton where there are several other options for the homeless (or poor) to access meals. Calgarians have few options outside of the DI so their meal program must be open to the entire homeless community.
Low Cost Food
       I only found this service in the DTES (down town east side of Vancouver)… but it is a model worth looking at for other agencies. The Carnegie Centre is a community centre on the corner of Hastings and Main. They have a cafeteria style restaurant where they sell $2 - $3 “blue plate specials” and low cost accompaniments (sides, desserts, beverages). The best run of the cheap meal programs is provided by the Evelyn Saller Centre on Alexander St in the DTES “The 44” as it is popularly know , serves three meals a day at a mere $2 per meal. That is all inclusive… and meals are usually well balanced. Menus are posted weekly on the door and except for the occasional swapping out of rice for potatoes things are usually as they were predicted. Meals can be purchased individually for cash or in bulk at the beginning of the month. Under some circumstances people recieving income support can have a monthly meal card issued through the area Social Assistance office.  The pre-purchased meals are listed in a ledger which is kept at the cash register and marked off as used.
Conclusion: I met a worker in Regina who plans to do her thesis on Nutrition and Homelessness… I would be interested in what she finds. When I was doing my research I developed a problem with my ligaments, as well as a severe weight gain, and dangerously low iron and vitamin D levels. My doctor here in Ontario has had me on several supplements over the past year in an effort to recover my health.   
On the plus side for street people the high carb diet provides quickly accessed energy stores for a lifestyle which often sees them going days without food. That fact was pointed out to me by a former street person.
Cities with multiple sources of free food, especially agencies/churches providing one meal per day or week have better nutrition over all. A single source for multiple meals, while convenient, struggles with the cost of providing meat protein and/or fresh produce. This also removes the need for our clients to get out and do a little walking between meals… which is for some their only source of exercise. Edmonton had an excellent network of meal providers, all within a 6 block radius of Bissell Centre drop-in on Boyle Street.
Recommendations: There is not much to recommend here, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have to work with. My only suggestion is that, agencies could communicate with each other to ensure all days are covered with a couple of options for each meal. In Regina, women had 0 – Breakfasts… 3 Lunches & 5- dinners per week; with a co-ed Sunday meal at the Marion Centre which normally only caters to males (3 meals per day 7 days per week).
         It would also be a good idea if sleep programs could make multi-vitamins available to client who might be interested in dietary supplements.

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