HUNGRY IN LAMBTON: Food insecurity and precarious housing are close cousins

Glenn Ogilvie Photo Mike, 61, at the Petrolia For Bank.

The Independent presents the second week of a six-part series by Reporter Cathy Dobson and Photographer Glenn Ogilvie focused on the alarming number of rural Lambton residents who increasingly cannot afford to feed themselves and their families.  Over the last nine months, we investigated how food insecurity is impacting our community and talked to the people who regularly access more than a dozen area food banks. We also examined the challenges faced by the extraordinary volunteers and agencies providing free food to a wide cross section of adults and children.
Here are their stories

Glenn Ogilvie Photo
Mike, 61, at the Petrolia For Bank.

Cathy Dobson/For The Independent

Life’s about to get a lot more unpredictable for 61 year-old Mike. 

He’s facing the loss of his home, a place that has accommodated him and his bulldog, Peanut, for the last five years. 

The rent’s been relatively cheap while he’s lived with a buddy in a house in Alvinston. In fact, it’s been so inexpensive that Mike’s been able to afford a pack-a-day smoking habit while living on Ontario Disability Support Program also known as ODSP.

He says he doesn’t want to give up his cigarette habit, but he might be forced to if rent in a new place is a lot more than the $800 a month he’s currently paying. That’s very likely going to be the case, especially since he needs a place to live with a yard for Peanut.

The average one-bedroom apartment in Sarnia-Lambton rents for about $1,200. If Mike’s lucky enough to find something affordable, it probably won’t have a yard.   

Until now, he’s been getting by with help from friends and the greater community that recognizes the challenges of food insecurity. 

Mike depends on food banks in Petrolia and Alvinston for his basic grocery needs, although he says he sometimes shops at No Frills and buys value packs of meat.
His support system includes buddies who drive him to and from Alvinston where there are not a lot of services for someone living below the poverty line. 

Standing outside the Petrolia Food Bank on a sunny spring morning, Mike is grateful for all the help but it’s getting increasingly difficult to have enough groceries on hand. 

He said he is afraid he’ll soon be much more dependent on food banks because he’s about to lose his long term living situation in Alvinston.“I have to move because my roommate is sick and it’s his house,” he said.

Mike – who doesn’t want to use his last name but has no problem agreeing to his photo being taken – has COPD, severe arthritis and he doesn’t drive. ODSP pays him about $1,400 a month. 

He’s not on Lambton County’s lengthy wait list for subsidized housing, so paying market value rent and affording groceries is going to be a real challenge, especially if he doesn’t give up cigarettes.

“I’ve been smoking since I was 17 years old and it’s not easy to quit,” he said. “I did it once for eight months but I started again.”

Glenn Ogilvie Photo Mike, 61, at the Petrolia For Bank.

Smokes are $23 a pack, Mike said.  “Or $12 for 200 if I can get someone to buy them for me on the rez (First Nations).”

It’s an expense he can’t afford but smoking is one of his few pleasures, he said taking a long puff on a cigarette and trying to suppress a cough.

“The food bank gives me eggs and bread. It really helps because it’s harder and harder to make my money stretch. Groceries used to cost me $150 a month but now I pay about $300, and that’s with the food bank (supplementing).”

He is worried about his friend who is sick in hospital. He’s also worried about where he is going to find an affordable place to live since his friend’s family told him he has to move. He’s afraid he’ll end up on the street.

There was a time when Mike lived in Lambton County social housing and had an apartment in Corunna. “But I didn’t like it.  People were so nosy, asked too many questions,” he said. “I want to be on my own but rents are crazy these days.

“I just don’t know if I am going to find anywhere I can afford.”


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