Food shortages, hunger and food insecurity have only worsened in Canada. I was astonished to witness the around the block line-up outside Toronto’s Allan Gardens Food Bank on the fourth day of the month. I naively thought those kind of queues would only be on the last half of the month when people on social assistance or living only on their Old Age Security had run out of money.

Even during a heat alert, people had braved the sun and humidity to get what food they could. Many were elderly or frail, leaning on canes, walkers or bundle buggies. In what can only be described as a cruel public policy knife in the back, on that same day, the City of Toronto opened its seven cooling centres for people who are vulnerable, however, citing its own impoverished budget, without staff, water, juice or snacks.

The starving student trope is no laughing matter, says a University of Alberta professor who supervised a study of campus food bank use.

Chalking student hunger up to “short-term pain for long-term gain” underestimates the importance of good nutrition, said Noreen Willows, a community nutritionist with the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science.

“How can you study if you’re hungry?” she said.

A survey of 58 students who used the University of Alberta food bank between April 2013 and April 2014 shows food insecurity — poor access to food — can negatively affect student health and academic achievement.

“Homelessness itself is a very strong barrier for food security,” said Parpouchi. “You’re not likely to have kitchen appliances for cooking and spaces to store food when you’re trying to secure shelter and housing.”

While food banks and other charities try to help fill the void, Parpouchi says it’s difficult for people to access proper nutrition when they’re already dealing with health issues related to their mental illness, drug use and are just struggling to find shelter and make appointments.

Parpouchi says the answer is to rely less on charities to address that need, adopt housing-first strategies and rethink the way food services are delivered in Canada.

“We need to think about access to food as a human right,” he said

The significant negative health impacts of low income, food insecurity, and inadequate housing are seen daily by health care providers and evidenced by research. People with lower incomes are more likely to have medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and die at a younger age than people with higher incomes. Food insecurity, only one contributor to poor health among people with low income, is more common among those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. It is also associated with increases health care utilization and costs.

Poverty affects health through a complex web of influences including material deprivation, chronic stress, and biological mechanisms such as changes in hormone levels. Poverty contributes to the development of medical conditions and also impact one’s ability to access medical care once they arise.

Premier Kathleen Wynne will visit schools, hospitals, businesses, Indigenous communities and other groups across Northern Ontario from August 6 to 12 to listen to local ideas and highlight how the government is supporting economic growth and job creation in the North.

The Premier will visit more than a dozen communities, including Sudbury, Espanola, Little Current, Elliot Lake, Blind River, Sault Ste. Marie, Batchawana Bay, Wawa, Fort Frances, Emo, Dryden, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Moosonee, Moose Factory, North Bay, New Liskeard and Kirkland Lake.