First published with The Courier –

The people going hungry in Ballarat are not who you may immediately think.

A new report released on Friday reveals a deeply entrenched and complex problem in the Ballarat community.

More than 12 per cent of Ballarat’s population experience food insecurity, a conservative estimate according to health professionals.

Monash University dietitian students surveyed 100 Ballarat community members who accessed emergency food relief programs.

Ballarat Community Health released the report Impacts of Food Insecurity in Ballarat today.

It reveals 78 per cent of those surveyed experienced moderate to severe hunger, a percentage shocking to Ballarat Community Health staff.

“In one sense it is terrible to run out of food and you might have to go down to Salvation Army, but to peel it back on a day to day basis that you and your children may be going to bed hungry at night in a city like Ballarat, in a country like Australia is really confronting,” Dr Deb Greenslade, research coordinator at Ballarat Community Health, said.

Of the 100 people presenting to charitable food relief, 26 per cent went to sleep hungry almost every week.

Almost 75 per cent had gone one to two days without eating in the past week.

The data shows so many presenting to food relief services are stuck in a cycle of food insecurity.

You get used to going to bed hungry.

The report details 49 per cent of surveyed clients have accessed charitable food services for more than a year, while 35 per cent have been accessing such emergency relief for more than five years.

The words that researchers heard so often never failed to confront  – “you get used to it, you get used to going to bed hungry”.

BCH health promotion officer Melissa Farrington said it was surprising to many that food insecurity affected a range of people.

“People just assume those going hungry are sleeping rough. But out of the 100 participants there was only three; one was sleeping in a car, one was couch surfing and the other was staying where they could,” she said.

About 40 per cent of those surveyed rent privately and 37 per cent rented publicly.

“If you don’t pay your mortgage or your rent then you can be evicted. If you don’t pay your bills then you can be cut off. Budget for food is the only thing you can sometimes manipulate,” Dr Greenslade said.

The Food Access Network, a collaboration of Ballarat organisations, will use report to inform moves to address food security.