Can housing lead to food security?

Student volunteers from USC set up a mini farmer’s market in the community kitchen at the Abby Apartments. Residents were provided grocery bags and fresh produce for free.

Student volunteers from USC set up a mini farmer’s market in the community kitchen at the Abby Apartments. Residents were provided grocery bags and fresh produce for free.

You sign your lease. You get the keys to your new apartment. You unpack your single box of clothes, and a Welcome Home Kit that has linens, dish soap, towels, pots, pans, dishes, cups, utensils – everything you need to start a new chapter in your life after homelessness.

But then you open your fridge. What should be an exciting moment, to have a kitchen to cook in after years of homelessness, is a harsh reminder that you still need help getting essentials to thrive. You need food. On General Relief a person receives only $221 a month. That leaves little for healthy food after rent, medications, transportation, and hygiene items are purchased. Kitchens often sit empty because food insecurity is real and damaging. But as a community, we can address it.

Food security, defined as a household having access to adequate nutritious and safe foods, is often jeopardized by homelessness and poverty. Studies report high rates of food insecurity among individuals who are homeless and living on the streets, staying in shelters, or in marginal housing (i.e. doubled up or in single-room occupancy units). And we see this in the work we do even when people transition from homelessness to Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). Despite having a place to store and prepare food and having access to resources such as food banks, a study funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, conducted at Skid Row Housing Trust (”the Trust”), found two-thirds of residents (67%) reported low food security that was directly related to limited income and far exceeds the rate of 22% among similarly aged low-income adults in the general population.

Food insecurity is associated with many of the health conditions that disproportionately affect PSH residents, including diabetes, HIV/AIDS, mobility impairments, depressive symptoms, substance use, and victimization or exposure to violence. Food insecure residents may also postpone medical care for financial reasons, leading to higher rates of emergency room use and hospitalization. Addressing food insecurity is essential for Trust residents to achieve health equity and to address all other challenges such as mental health, physical well-being, and emotional stability. Having a full stomach can mean sleeping well, which means the resident is more alert and remembers their doctor’s appointment, which means they get necessary medications, which means they can think clearly and do not feel the need to drink, which means they start to meet personal goals. There’s a domino effect and it is rooted in housing and food security. Recovery starts with housing, we continue care with food. .

From bringing professional chefs to our buildings to teach residents how to cook well with limited ingredients, to finding more food delivery resources for our mobility impaired and aging residents, there are creative ways to help residents become food secure.   Our Trust at 30! Event on November 7th at The Majestic Downtown, will celebrate our Food Security Champions who are addressing this need. We hope you’ll join us and contribute to enhancing programs that help residents become food secure! Once we address food needs we can address all other challenges.

Jack Lahey, MSW, is the Vice President of Health and Social Services  at Skid Row Housing Trust. He oversees all programing for residents and is involved with leading the Trust to increase its services to better address and support a fragile aging population.

Benjamin Henwood, PhD, LCSW, is a Skid Row Housing Trust board member and a recognized expert in health and housing services research whose work connects clinical interventions with social policy. Dr. Henwood has specific expertise in improving care for adults experiencing homelessness and serious mental illness, as well as in the integration of primary and behavioral health care.