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  • T.J. Putman

The Cost of Homelessness: Food & Essential Goods

In our last post, we introduced the cost of poverty and the significant effect inflation has on low-income families. You can view it here if you missed it. We are continuing this series by focusing on groceries and other essential household items.

The families we serve usually either receive federal food assistance benefits like SNAP (formerly called food stamps) or are low-income families who are budgeting a large percentage of their income towards food and household goods. With inflation, the money for food does not stretch as far as it used to.

Furthering the costs, many low-income neighborhoods are located in “food deserts.” The United States Department of Agriculture defines a “food desert” as an “area with limited access to affordable and healthy food.” This usually means that larger stores with lower prices on fresh and healthy food are farther away and require reliable transportation to access. Stores located in food deserts tend to be small convenience stores that carry very little fresh food and charge more for the goods. This has an impact both on families’ wallets and their health.

There are many programs that are aimed at combatting food insecurity in the United States. In addition to SNAP, children of low-income families are eligible for free lunch programs at public schools. These programs can help keep children from going hungry. However, for some homeless families, fully utilizing SNAP benefits can be difficult. SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase restaurant/ fast food meals. This restricts families with limited or no access to a kitchen to fewer meal options.

There are other essential items that families cannot purchase with SNAP benefits. Items like diapers are necessary but very expensive for low-income families. In fact, the other day, a mom in our shelter program needed diapers and purchased 1 pack of 32 diapers at Walmart for about $10. This was totally reasonable, but at the same time boxes of 192 diapers were $9 off at Costco costing $26. Each diaper at Walmart costs $0.31, while each diaper at Costco costs $0.13. This mom would pay a total of about $60 for 192 diapers at Walmart, $34 more than purchasing in bulk at Costco.

Buying in bulk can be difficult for families living paycheck to paycheck. The startup costs of access to bulk stores like Costco limits some of the options that could save money. Additionally, families may not have the space to store bulk purchases. Most apartments have small kitchens with limited cabinet space and one refrigerator with a freezer making bulk item storage difficult or impossible, even if it would save money.

There are large macroeconomic factors impacting our economy. Individually, we don’t have much control over our country’s fiscal policy, industrial production, or employment numbers. Even so, there are ways to help families through these rough economic times! You can donate to our Family Fund, purchase items on our needs list, and volunteer with us! These are small ways you can help be part of the solution that ends homelessness for a family.

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