Updated: Apr 6
Buy food or pay bills; that's a question that many families in America grapple with regularly. When you hear the word food insecurity who immediately comes to your mind?
For a long time hunger has been associated with extreme poverty and the homeless. But a growing lack of consistent access to nutritious meals has everyone talking.
Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as ‘a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle."
Perhaps the topic has made it to your table. It is common enough that more than likely you know someone who is struggling to obtain their basic need. This could be your neighbor or family members, or perhaps even you.
The higher rates of food insecurity in moderate to low-income households in the United States (and not just living at or below the poverty level) has made this a hot topic.
How does food insecurity lead to homelessness?
Without proper nutrition, children face challenges in learning or retaining information which can later lead to minimal opportunities for higher education and unemployment. Later in life, as adults, individuals have to choose between purchasing groceries and paying bills creating a negative impact on their living circumstances and their physical health.
Poverty and malnutrition form a vicious cycle. One that becomes intergenerational and directly affects a person's ability to succeed in school and find employment. All of which increases the likelihood that an individual will experience homelessness.
Growing up with limited resources creates a mindset and a poverty loop that is difficult to break free from.
When you add in the ever-increasing cost of living and lack of affordable housing, a growing concern in many moderate to low-income households. Economic hardship will cause a number of families to accept substandard living arrangements. Individuals will accept underemployment, turn to crime to survive, or sacrifice assets to cover immediate needs.
When individuals are living paycheck to paycheck and barely able to put food on the table: an economic crisis, a world pandemic, one tragedy or broken down vehicle could become the moment that they find themselves living on the streets.
As food insecurity rates rise, so will the homeless population. Food insecurity may not be the cause of homelessness, but those who experience it on a regular basis are at a much greater risk of becoming homeless.
Correlation Between Food and Learning
It's no secret that when a child is hungry, their ability to process and retain information is hindered.
Food insecurity often grows with the child if their needs aren't satisfied. But, It doesn't just affect their appetites.
Without access to nutritious food, children face challenges learning or retaining information. Healthy food plays an important role in giving students an advantage in the classroom. Overall diet quality improves academic performance.
The opposite is also true. Low food security leads to problems in the classroom.
The national school lunch program helps address this need during the school year and many teachers have been known to send food home with children they know have nothing to eat at home. For some children, school meals are all the nutrition they receive in a day.
Food insecurity contributes to low academic scores and impacts social skills. This will lead to communication and mental health problems later in life.
In 2020 the US Department of Agriculture reported that 13.8 million U.S. households (that's 10.5 percent) experienced food insecurity at some time during that year.
Growing up in food-insecure households can lead to minimal opportunities for higher education.
Not sure if your student is struggling with food insecurity at home?
Feeding America has listed indications to help you recognize when a child or family may need nutritional assistance. If child hunger isn't rectified early on, it could present itself as a health issue that will impact every aspect of life.
Correlation Between Food and Health
Public health is something that is on all of our minds since Covid-19 hit. While it showed up in every community it hit the homeless, communities of color, those with a pre-existing medical condition, and the extremely poor harder than those who had access to medical care, had their basic needs met, had adequate food and were living a healthy life leading up to the pandemic.
Nutrition is an advantage that those with limited income, people who live in food deserts or rural areas, many minorities and the homeless simply do not have.
The food insecure are disproportionally affected by chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Their limited access to healthy foods spill over into a lack of access to health care.
Because they can not afford prevention through nutritious food they are at higher risk for poor health outcomes. When medical issues do arrive they are unable to address them in a timely manner, and the cycle of poverty and poor health is only amplified.
Food vs. Bills
As if living paycheck to paycheck isn't hard enough, imagine having to choose between purchasing food or keeping your electricity on?
This is a choice many families make every single day. Hoping to pay just enough to keep their lights on and provide adequate nutrition for the ones they love.
"But why?" I hear you asking. "Don't we have enough food in America to feed every citizen?"
Yes. There is enough food to feed everyone. From Snap benefits to food pantries and hunger prevention programs, one would think that no one would experience food insecurity. This is a problem in America that should be solved. But hasn't been.
Why? Because solely providing food for a short period won't end food insecurity. Nutritional education, accessible long-term nutrition, and other supportive services that provide continual access to healthy food will end food insecurity in our country.
Healthy and affordable grocery stores, community gardens, and food programs that offer a variety of foods to low-income families, single parents, and those who are at a higher risk of food insecurity are needed to tackle this problem.
As a country, we keep trying to fix the symptoms of underlying issues, instead of addressing the issues that are causing the problems.
If poor nutrition leads to health problems and access to quality medical care is an issue, then doesn't it make more sense to provide federal programs that provide healthy food to the general population.
Hunger is a public health concern.
Rising Housing Cost
Tampa's housing market is one of the best (or worst) in the country, depending on which side of the river you live.
Rent costs in Tampa rose more than 20% last year, pushing those already on the brink of homelessness over the edge, leaving families homeless or falling prey to predatory lenders looking to make a quick buck. Housing and rental assistance programs have not provided the solutions they claimed were needed.
Individuals in need of immediate assistance are often required to submit an application and supporting documents only to be placed on an extensive waitlist and later be denied because they either make too much money or are receiving other government aid.
Wealthy investors buying property for more than twice its value than renting it to local community members has created a growing financial sinkhole for all of us. (Learn more at the 15-minute marker of NPR's Marketplace report from February 1, 2022)
The cost of housing currently leaves little left for the grocery store, where prices are also on the rise. More families are turning to their local food pantry to offset the high cost of living.
If you are in need of food assistance and live in the Tampa area, click here to discover food banks near you.
Until we address the crisis of systemic disparities within moderate to low-income communities, we cannot solve the primary issue of food insecurity.
It's about more than a meal today— it's about a meal tomorrow, continued nutritional education for an extended time, and a way to sustain a lifetime of nutritional equity.
In Homeless and Hungry community connectedness is defined as a “feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”
In many low to moderate-income families, there’s a sense of disconnection from their local community. While food insecurity can be an issue in any community, it’s often exacerbated by the lack of support and belonging that comes with living in poverty.
Creating a sense of belonging within your community can help alleviate this problem and empower individuals to improve the quality of their lives, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania.
Social support is critical in preventing and fighting off food insecurity and its related issues, such as obesity and other preventable illnesses. Here are just a few of the reasons:
Social isolation: There is an abundance of evidence that shows how those who are socially isolated are more likely to suffer from poor health, including higher risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Economic deprivation: Those living below or near the poverty line tend to live alone and rely on few resources. With limited access to employment opportunities and available social programs (such as SNAP), these individuals often find themselves at increased risk for food insecurity.
Inequality: People belonging to lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less able to afford nutritious food options than their middle or upper-class counterparts; not only because they may lack money but also because they don’t have equal access to healthy foods—and social capital plays a part here too.
Here are some ideas on how you can create a sense of belonging within your own community, promote food security and give low to moderate-income families more access to nutritious foods.
The act of volunteering is not just about getting involved, but also about getting engaged with your community and building social ties. Once you find a cause that works for you, you'll be better able to make an impact in your neighborhood and beyond.
Be sure to check out VolunteerMatch, which makes connecting with volunteer opportunities easy by helping you search local groups, causes, and events in your area!
Whether you're looking to pitch in at a nearby elementary school or are looking to branch out further and help organize park cleanups, there's always room for one more good soul in need of service hours.
Many low to moderate-income families have mentioned feeling left out when it comes to community engagement. This is why creating a sense of belonging within a community can help alleviate food insecurity for many struggling households.
Involving members in local church activities, like soup kitchens or midnight basketball leagues, has been shown time and again to make all involved feel more welcome and accepted in their communities, thereby alleviating their reliance on outside assistance services.
As we continue to work together with our neighbors, we hope to continue fostering a place where every person feels like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Social support is often difficult for those who struggle with hunger in order to obtain meals regularly due to transportation issues or limited time constraints, especially single mothers and families with children.
Together, we can achieve a more healthy and prosperous community for everyone, no matter an individual's income class.
Will you join us in creating a more wealthy society for us all? Take action now - invest in those who need it the most.
Help relieve someone's mental burden of worrying about where their next meal will come from. Remember, what you do today affects all of our tomorrows.