Online Program

Widespread Food Insecurity among Residents of Single Room Occupancy Housing: Implications for Food, Income, and Housing Policy

Monday, November 2, 2015

Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, School of Social Work, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Sarah Bowen, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background: Emerging evidence suggests that food insecurity is a significant public health concern among homeless and marginally housed people. This study examined food insecurity among vulnerably housed individuals living in single room occupancy (SRO) dwellings. People in SROs may be at particular risk for food insecurity, given their limited incomes and the fact that SRO units do not typically include cooking facilities.

Methods: A cross-sectional sample of SRO residents (n = 153) was recruited from 10 privately owned, for-profit SRO buildings in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Food insecurity was measured using the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale.  Data were also collected on health-related, socioeconomic, and demographic covariates.

Results: The scale exhibited strong internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .90). Food insecurity was prevalent, with 75% of participants considered food insecure and 52% meeting criteria for severe food insecurity. Total amount of monthly income was significantly associated with decreased likelihood of food insecurity, while receiving SNAP benefits was not a significant covariate. Women, individuals with a mental health condition or a chronic physical health condition, heavy drinkers, and participants who ate most meals at a soup kitchen or church were all more likely to be food insecure. Eating most meals at a soup kitchen was the strongest covariate of food insecurity (OR = 10.13).  

Conclusions: The high rate of food insecurity in this study is striking, especially considering that 73% of participants received SNAP benefits and many also accessed private food assistance through local soup kitchens and food pantries. These findings suggest that although targeted food assistance is critical in the short term, food insecurity among SRO residents could be better addressed through policy interventions to increase overall income. Elevated income would expand individuals’ purchasing power for food and other necessities, as well as their housing options. Policy action should include advocacy to raise the level of disability benefits, the most common income source for participants in this study. Employment conditions for low-wage workers should also be addressed. In addition, housing policies can also help mitigate food insecurity among SRO residents, for example through programs to renovate SROs to include food preparation spaces and technologies.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Identify the prevalence and covariates of food insecurity among residents of single room occupancy housing Describe implications for food, income, and housing policy to address food insecurity among vulnerably housed populations including single room occupancy residents

Keyword(s): Food Security, Homelessness

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a social work researcher who has conducted research on food insecurity and other health outcomes for homeless and vulnerably housed populations. I was the PI for the research presented in the abstract.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.