Could you survive on a food budget of only 18 dollars a week?

Roughly 200 people across the province - including two MLAs, a Vancouver city councilor, an MP, and the president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation - will be trying to do just that as they spend the next week eating only what is affordable according to welfare rates.

The fifth annual Welfare Food Challenge is designed to put a spotlight on B.C.'s welfare rates, which have been frozen at $610 per month for a single person for several years. Many say this rate is far too low and leaves people living in extreme poverty.

“This is the fifth welfare food challenge, and every year we start by trying to calculate how much a person has for food,” said Bill Hopwood of Raise the Rates, the anti-poverty organization that organizes the challenge.

“Every year that money goes down, because the rents keep soaring, not just in Vancouver but across all of British Columbia,” Hopwood told reporters assembled at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House for the start of the 2016 challenge.

When the challenge began in 2012, participants were asked to spend $26 on food, but increases in the average cost of rent in the province have whittled away at the amount leftover for food each week, Hopwood said.

“You can’t not pay your rent, unless you sleep in a tent, and that’s one of the reasons homelessness is increasing,” he said. “So what gets squeezed is food.”

In past years, the food budget calculation has included a small amount of money for transit, which people on welfare need in order to get to interviews, food banks, and other places they need to go.

Hopwood said this year’s calculation doesn’t include money for transit, because that’s another thing people on welfare are forced to go without.

“This is reality,” he said. “Most people on welfare don’t buy bus tickets, because you choose between $2.75 for a bus ticket or your day’s food.”

Vancouver City Councilor Andrea Reimer, MLAs Melanie Mark and Spencer Chandra-Herbert, and MP Jenny Kwan are all participating in this year’s challenge, living for a week what the one-in-25 British Columbians who are on welfare go through month after month.

“I do a challenge every week, trying to keep healthy,” said Fraser Doke, an HIV-positive cancer patient who is on social assistance.

“If it wasn’t for charities and community centres, my health would be so bad,” added Joanne Shaw, who is currently on disability benefits that are higher than welfare and says she still struggles to make ends meet.

With files from The Canadian Press