Seniors are having to look beyond their own empty pantries for their next meal at an ever-increasing rate, say local organizations.

Abby Mills, director of community and family services for the Salvation Army, said the amount of seniors coming through the door for a hot meal or to make use of the food bank is rising.

“And they’re coming in regularly,” she added. “It’s not even a matter of reaching the time in the month right before their support cheques come out. They’re coming to visit us throughout the month and we are definitely seeing an uptick in the number of seniors who are relying on us for support.”

Last year the Salvation Army served a little under 20,000 meals and will easily top 21,000 this year, said Mills.

Sarnia is a community intimately familiar with poverty, said Myles Vanni, executive director of the Inn of the Good Shepherd, which – together with other food banks and homeless shelters in the city – feeds 3,800 people per month and houses 22 people per night.

More than two-thirds of food bank users are people who have jobs, he said.

“It could be a neighbour, a family member.”

Meanwhile, 3,000 good-paying jobs have been lost in Sarnia-Lambton in the past eight years, Vanni said, noting some have been replaced with lower-paying, often part-time, work

The current unemployment rate in Sarnia-Lambton is 9.7 per cent – the highest in southwestern Ontario, he said.

This month, the Ontario government is expected to release a report by former Senator Hugh Segal mapping the way toward a basic income pilot project and setting the stage for consultations with Ontarians.

From the outset, the idea of a basic income has been mired in controversy in large part because it exposes fundamental differences in our views of justice, freedom, the balance between collective and individual rights and responsibilities, and the role of government.

The idea of an unconditional income guarantee has won renewed favour from proponents across the ideological spectrum, but that also means advocates hold very different views of what a basic income should look like, how generous it should be, whether it should be targeted or universal, and how it should be paid for.

Imagine having to choose between paying the rent and buying food, or between medicines and food? Imagine worrying, perpetually, about where you next meal will come from, or the shame of relying on a food bank. Imagine grocery shopping when all you can afford is the no-name brand of mac-and-cheese. For millions of Canadians, many of whom are working, this is reality.

“The simple definition of (food insecurity) is people struggling to put food on the table because they lack money,” Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, says. “That is a very big problem in Canada and the public face of that problem is food banks.”

Back in 1993, a single person on social assistance would receive $663 per month, which is $962 in today’s dollars. The poverty gap (the difference between total income and the low-income measure) for these individuals was 20 per cent. Today, that single person on Ontario Works (OW) only receives $681 and experiences a poverty gap of a startling 59 per cent.

Much of this poverty gap can be explained by the austerity measures during the “Common Sense Revolution” of 1995, when the Harris government cut social assistance by 21 per cent and froze rates until they left government in 2002. Since then, the cost of living has continued to rise, yet progress on reversing the damage has been limited.

Scrapping Canada’s patchwork of income support programs and replacing them with a single “basic income” with no strings attached, would make poverty worse for everyone, says a new report.

Or if the money was used to help the poorest Canadians, it would lift adults and children out of poverty at the expense of seniors, says the report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“There is no magic bullet to eliminating poverty,” said economist David Macdonald, author of “A Policymaker’s Guide to Basic Income,” being released Wednesday.

“Basic income programs can be part of the mix, but increased wages, lower unemployment for youth and better financial support for seniors also have to be part of the deal,” he added.

The possibility of implementing a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) is currently one of the hottest topics in Canadian social policy. It gained momentum earlier this year when the Ontario government announced it would undertake a pilot study of the GAI. And in June, the Ontario government announced that former Canadian Senator Hugh Segal will advise them on the “design and implementation” of the pilot.

A discussion paper he has authored is expected to be made public this fall, and three months of consultations will start soon in Ontario.

The main idea behind a GAI is to give every adult in Canada a fixed amount of money with few if any conditions and to do away with several other types of income assistance programs (especially social assistance).