Finding Food Security in Portland

by Chloe Eberhardt

“…food affects all aspects of our life…we don’t recognize it is taking a toll on these other aspects of our life until we have a discussion.”

Food insecurity continues to persist in Oregon, leaving many struggling to find enough to eat every month. Between 2013 and 2015, Oregon was the only state to see an increase in food insecurity and hunger, even as the national rate declined and Oregon’s economy grew.

Over the course of 2016, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon connected with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants in the Portland-area to hear about their experiences of food insecurity and their solutions.

Participants expressed that interconnected factors influence their food security status. They highlighted multiple insecurities in their lives, including housing and transportation, policies that impact access and the effectiveness of food assistance resources, perceptions of stigma and a lack of empathy for their experiences. More details can be found in our recently released report Finding Food Security in Portland, Oregon: A Qualitative Study Among SNAP Recipients. The report features the voices of SNAP participants identifying key reasons they’re impacted by food insecurity, as well as recommendations from these findings.

The report findings were organized into a social ecological model of food insecurity, which includes six factors: individual, interpersonal, perceived environment, personal environment, built environment and policy, as well as 29 sub-factors that affect participants’ food security status.

Through this work we connected with Laura and Lois who provided in-depth looks into their lives to better understand how the highlighted factors combine to affect their food security status. Laura is experiencing food insecurity because of her precarious situation, while Lois feels food secure because she accesses multiple resources and has stability in many areas of her life.

Laura is a young, single mother of a sixteen-month-old. She currently couch-surfs, a housing situation that impacts her food security status as other people routinely eat the food that she buys and there is little room to store her food. She shops once per month when she receives a ride to a grocery store as she does not have her own transportation and the stores near her are too expensive. She runs out of SNAP by the middle of the month then depends on family members to help her out. She’s aware of other food resources but it’s hard for her to access those resources and difficult to carry food back on public transportation. Laura shared that at the end of each month she feels broke and hopeless to find enough food to eat.

Lois is an adult woman over 60 years old. Lois became homeless years ago when she could not find work in her field. She obtained temporary housing through a non-profit employment program and then secured permanent subsidized housing in Portland. Lois utilizes multiple services to obtain food security. She uses SNAP benefits to buy food at the beginning of the month then her Social Security to cover food costs once her SNAP benefits run out. She has health conditions and limited mobility, but she has resources so they do not negatively affect her food security status. She receives transportation from Neighborhood House to grocery stores once a week. And she is provided with a caregiver who assists her with cleaning and cooking. Lois says she is content with her current situation and that she almost always feels she has enough to eat.

The report concludes that food security is found when aspects of individuals’ lives discussed in the above model—such as housing, employment, living in a safe neighborhood, having a social support network—are stabilized.

To learn more, read the executive summary here [PDF, 466 KB]