The Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (Alliance), the Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) and those with lived experience came together to discuss the current state of charity food distribution for people experiencing homelessness in Perth.
The impetus for the forum came from a previous meeting of people with lived experience of homelessness expressing concern about the various aspects of food distribution to the homeless in the Perth Metropolitan Area. At that initial meeting it was discovered WACOSS had carried out extensive work on the various aspects of food relief and distribution including a Code of Practice and a Lived Experience Partnership Framework.
Upon learning this the Alliance combined with WACOSS to present a forum through Leela James, Coordinator, Community Relief and Resilience. The forum also heard from Associate Professor Christina Pollard, Curtin University School of Public Health. Dr Pollard has a background in researching approaches to improving nutrition for population groups who are vulnerable due to their social or economic circumstances.
To ensure that the lived experience remains our primary focus, Joshua Serafini agreed to present and brought his unique perspective to the gathering. Having once been the recipient of free meals, he now prepares and cooks over 100 meals for those currently experiencing homelessness at least three times a week from a commercial kitchen located within the George Burnett Leisure Centre in Karawara.
Given that COVID-19 social distancing requirements were still in place the forum was attended by many in the room and via Zoom. Over 20 people attended in total mostly with a background in food provision and an interest in food relief.
John Berger, Executive Officer provided the context of holding the forum, introduced the panel and facilitated the discussion after the presenters spoke. The general discussion focussed on how we can encourage and improve standards and how we can achieve this through localised collaboration and participation of all stakeholders.
In her presentation Leela ran through a condensed version of the WA Food Relief Framework which has mapped the charity food system. It highlighted that most of the charity food relies on surplus commercial product and this was stretched when COVID-19 hit.
“When the panic buying bought up the stock there was a real struggle to secure charity food supplies,” said Leela.
The report is extensive and identifies food relief providers throughout the State and how food relief recipients and stakeholders can work together more effectively.
Dr Christina Pollard spoke about her interest in the homelessness nutritional space thanks to the humble meat pie. It was a query put to the public health nutritionist about the nutritional value of a meat pie and its suitability to be served in soup kitchens.
Her reply was, “it depends” based on the context, who it is for, what the needs are and many other factors. Dr Pollard continued to look at the issue of the needs of disadvantaged Western Australians taking on the experiences of not only people living on the streets but from the people who supplied the food. As a result of this research and her structured interviews of over 100 people Dr Pollard discovered the food supply was largely insufficient and inappropriate.
“Food for food relief being tied to food waste and redistribution is not going to fix this because when organisations negotiate to get food it often comes with a whole pile of junk food as well … it doesn’t support the people who are using the services,” said Dr Pollard.
“There needs to be really strong advocacy around pushing back and separating a dignified response to food insecurity from the waste response to Australian food and there are ways to do that.”
During the discussion Joshua Serafini outlined how donations can impact on standards.
“People come from a really good heartfelt place when they try to donate (food) however, sometimes it is not what we need or what’s needed for the execution of high standard of meals,” he said. “Everybody is very picky and choosy these days and they want to be able to have choice and freedom and variety in this area. Whether it is a cooked meal, vouchers or food hampers.”
Leela James is keen to hear from anyone who has further questions or would like to learn more about the Food Relief Framework and how they can connect with others. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.