By Darci Niva, Coalition Director of Westside Coalition

Food insecurity is a reality, even on the Westside. Food insecurity means is “limited, uncertain, or inconsistent access to the quality and quantity of food that is necessary to live a healthy life,” according to the California Food Policy Advocates. So, low income populations, the homeless community, seniors on a fixed income, one in five college students and others often turn to community and government resources available to meet their particular deficit. The most notable resource for food insecurity is the SNAP program or food stamps. But there are proposed cuts, deep cuts, to SNAP benefits and if you talk to almost anyone on the SNAP program, you will find that it isn’t enough to last through the month. When that happens, families and individuals turn to other resources to make up the difference. The proposed cuts to the SNAP program would disproportionately affect working families and seniors over the age of 60.

It seems as though many of the agencies and organizations that are members of the Westside Coalition have their own resource guides or pamphlets that they can hand out to folks coming to them for assistance. So, we put the various resource guides into one online google sheet and at first glance it seems as though there is a wealth of resources, including ample food. But as one might expect, it is never quite as easy as it seems. For those experiencing homelessness, one cannot purchase more than they can immediately eat if the food needs to be refrigerated, making grocery shopping more expensive and more frequent. For those in housing, food deserts are a very real issue. Food deserts are areas where access to affordable, healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables is limited because there is no grocery store nearby. People living in food deserts often buy food from convenience stores such as 7-11, which aren’t necessarily known for stocking a lot of healthy choices. Even with the many food banks available through faith-based organizations and nonprofits, transportation becomes a barrier in a large city like LA. For seniors, trying to navigate the transit system and carry bags of groceries can seem insurmountable.

Years ago, when I worked for a city government as a case manager for the homeless population, I witnessed a pattern that I will never forget. It appeared to me that when a person first became homeless they were very motivated to do whatever it took to get back on their feet. They would see a case manager, look for work, do whatever they had to do. But within a few weeks time, I watched what could be called the survival mechanism set in. People were so busy just trying to stay alive (food, shelter, shower, etc.) that they didn’t have a lot of time or energy left to actually work on getting out of the hopeless situation they found themselves in. One agency might serve breakfast but getting a shower could be a long way from there and bus tokens are hard to come by. If a friend is watching their possessions, they have to trade off, so that the second person can eat and get a shower at another location. Hours later, the first person looks for a second meal, a place to get a blanket or maybe wash their clothes, if they are lucky. It takes all of their energy to simply maintain their status quo.

When I look at the collective resource list, it is clear that it takes every program on this extensive list, every agency, every organization, every faith-based group to address the growing crisis of homelessness and the misery of food insecurity. I also realize how interconnected each resource is to make a successful “picture” that attempts to solve these very large problems. Each one of us has a part to play and sometimes just understanding that it isn’t quite as simple as it might seem goes a long way toward healing our community. I am so amazed at the churches, synagogues, temples and mosques that serve meals or have food pantries or other programs in tandem with the social service agencies. An example is the Senior Celebration that Mt. Olive Lutheran Church has each month. Most of the seniors that come are not members of the church, but a wonderful, healthy meal is served. There is an interesting program in partnership with St. John’s Hospital and all of the leftover food is divided up and sent home with people. The warmth, friendship and love is palpable. These are the kinds of incredible things that Westside community members are doing to help out. It makes me proud to be a part of such a giving community lovingly facing enormous challenges.

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