“…is it possible to eat healthily while homeless?”

From: Harmonisation of Definitions of Homelessness for UK Official Statistics: A Feasibility Report (February 2019):

“Homelessness affects a wide range of people, covering not just people sleeping rough, but also those in temporary accommodation, sleeping temporarily at friends houses, living in unfit dwellings and those threatened with homelessness. Statutory homelessness and rough sleeping are the two main concepts of homelessness discussed in this report, however, other types of homelessness were explored as part of this research.”

Carinya Sharples wrote at thepavement.org.uk on May 04 2015:

“In its report ‘Food, Nutrition and Homelessness’, the Queen’s Nursing Institute noted: “When the issue of food is addressed by key workers, a ‘broad brush’ approach may be adopted (such as whether the individual is eating or has access to food) rather than identifying the nutrient quality of a homeless person’s diet. While this may be a realistic approach, it can result in further malnourishment for the individual concerned.”

In other words: eating endless sandwiches may fill a hole, but it won’t necessarily give your body what it needs to stay healthy.

The statistics illustrate the point. Some 70 per cent of long-term homeless people show medical symptoms of malnutrition, according to Shelter Scotland. In its health audit ‘The Unhealthy State of Homelessness’, Homeless Link reported a third of clients do not eat any fruit and vegetables and the same amount regularly eat less than two meals a day.

Why does it matter? Because food affects everything: your health, mood, self-esteem, fitness. In its good food guide, Cyrenians points out healthy eating can prevent obesity, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke, diabetes, cancer, gallstones, bowel disease, tooth decay, lack of energy, constipation and piles, and depression.

So is it possible to eat healthily while homeless? Yes, say the guests at Notre Dame (5, Leicester Place, London WC2), but it’s not easy. “I always make sure I have carbohydrates, vegetables, protein and fresh fruit. There are a few places where after the meal they give out fresh fruit and yogurt,” says Katie. “But if you stay in one place you don’t get as much variety.”

At Amurt’s Thursday night street café on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, it’s not sandwiches but soups and stews that are on the menu – made with vegetables from the wholesale market and served with a box of pitta bread from a Greek baker. They also hand out whatever fruit they can get, usually a box of bananas or apples.

Even for those who have somewhere to cook, it’s still hard. Working out how to spend what small money you have is one of the skills taught on the nine-week and four-week food courses run in Scotland as part of the Cyrenians Good Food programme. “It’s about drip-feeding the healthy food information, the budgeting information – not about overwhelming them in the first week,” says cookery tutor Sue.

“We try to think of strategies for each individual: we’ve had some people who only have a microwave to cook with.”

By the end of the course, participants have learned how to plan their meals for the week ahead and do everything from make soup to cook a three-course meal in the microwave. “It’s just about making those small changes that will hopefully add up to a big change in people’s health.” “

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