Auburn tackles its health, food insecurities

Wanting Auburn to be the healthiest city in the state of Washington by 2020, Mayor Nancy Backus launched a blue ribbon committee in 2015 to address poor health outcomes in Auburn.

To reach the goal, Backus knows, there must be a reversal of the trend that has Auburn residents living 10 years less than their neighbors in north King County.

The reality of that trend is just one of the sobering findings in Washington Community Action Network’s recently-released report on issues affecting the health outcomes of Auburn residents, a report based on its 2016 survey of 678 Auburn residents to learn about underlying factors that affect health and food insecurity in Auburn.

Here’s what it learned.

That two in five, 41.5 percent, of those surveyed worry about running out of money for food, one-third have run out of money for food, and one in five had skipped meals because they were out of money.

That 31 percent have had to choose food over basic needs, such as medication, rent, clothing, health insurance, or even paying their bills.

That food insecurity is highest among participants who can’t work because of a disability, 73.5 percent, and lowest among people who work 41- 60 hours a week.

That of the participants with children younger than 18 years old, 84.3 percent experiences some food insecurity, and 53.7 percent had suffered pronounced food insecurity.

That African-Americans in Auburn experience the highest rate of pronounced food insecurity at 64.1 percent.

And, that 44.6 percent said that the closest grocery store from where they lived was more than mile away, and more than 20 minutes driving or walking distance. The upshot is that many people in Auburn are forced to rely on convenience stores and less healthy food options.

According to the report food insecurity is not a matter of changing behaviors, it’s a matter of addressing the root causes of access.

Good news is the report outlines solutions the City of Auburn and community partners can take to address Auburn’s food insecurity challenges and to move toward eliminating the health gap.

Such solutions range from creating market gardens to passing tenant rights policies.

According to Washington CAN!, one program led by it and other community partners that has already proven successful is its Auburn Good Food Bag program.

What this program does is allow more families to access fresh produce by removing three barriers: the cost; the location challenges; and the time it takes to shop. This locally-grown, organic produce is distributed at places where communities already gather.

In fact, Washington CAN! subsidizes half of the bag, allowing many recipients of the Auburn Good Food Bag to feed their family a healthy meal that would otherwise have been unaffordable.

The problem is that by 2018, Washington CAN! will no longer be able to support Good Food Bag.

Which is why two weeks ago staff members approached city leaders with a couple requests: to provide a city coordinator; and to offer financial support for the program.

Washingtom CAN! also wants to develop partnerships with low-income housing and service providers to establish free shuttle buses from low-income neighborhoods throughout the city to the farmers market.