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Hunger, Homelessness Still a Challenge in America According to Mayors/Sodexho Survey

January 16, 2006


On December 19, the 2005 United States Conference of Mayors'sodexho, Inc. Hunger and Homelessness Survey was released during a press conference at city hall in San Francisco hosted by Co-chair of the Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Taskforce San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Others joining Newsom were Conference of Mayors President Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, Co-Chair of the Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Taskforce Cedar Rapids (IA) Mayor Paul Pate, President of Sodexho, Inc. School Services Division Rod Bond, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Philip Mangano, and Conference of Mayors Executive Director Tom Cochran.

For the past 21 years, the Conference of Mayors has reported on the shortage of emergency services – food, shelter, medical care, income assistance and energy assistance – in the nation’s cities. For the third year, Sodexho, Inc. joins the Conference of Mayors in bringing national attention to the factors that impact hunger and homelessness in metropolitan centers in the United States.

New to the survey this year is the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on hunger and homelessness. Survey cities with evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are particularly concerned that a lack of federal commitment to evacuees, many of whom reside in their communities, will eventually put a strain on already limited resources cities used for their pre-hurricane hunger and homeless populations.

Survey cities also believe that the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will become more evident in 2006 as evacuees will continue to need social services, food, and housing. Further, cities say that the federal government’s policy for hurricane evacuees should be broadened to include readily available housing and social services to homeless populations that existed prior to the hurricanes.

“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exposed the poverty and social needs in our cities which have been the mantra of this report over the past 20 years,” said O’Neill. “Our hope is that everyone will make the commitment to address these serious problems.”

Summary

To assess the status of hunger and homelessness in America’s cities during 2005, The United States Conference of Mayors surveyed 24 major cities whose mayors were members of its Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. The survey sought information and estimates from each city on 1) the demand for emergency food assistance and emergency shelter and the capacity of local agencies to meet that demand; 2) the causes of hunger and homelessness and the demographics of the populations experiencing these problems; 3) exemplary programs or efforts in the cities to respond to hunger and homelessness; 4) the availability of affordable housing for low income people; and 5) the outlook for the future and the impact of the economy on hunger and homelessness.

Among the findings of the 24-city survey:

Hunger

  • Officials in the survey cities estimate that during the past year requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 12 percent, with 76 percent of the cities registering an increase. Requests for food assistance by families with children increased by an average of seven percent. Requests for emergency food assistance by elderly persons increased by an average of 13 percent during the last year, with 76 percent of the cities reporting an increase. 

  • On average, 18 percent of the requests for emergency food assistance are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year. For families alone, 18 percent of the requests for assistance are estimated to have gone unmet. In 43 percent of the cities, emergency food assistance facilities may have to turn away people in need due to lack of resources. 

  • Fifty-four percent of the people requesting emergency food assistance were members of families - children and their parents. Forty percent of the adults requesting food assistance were employed. 

  • The overall level of resources available to emergency food assistance facilities increased by seven percent during the last year in the cities registering an increase. Forty-eight percent of the survey cities reported that emergency food assistance facilities are able to provide an adequate quantity of food. Eighty-three percent of the cities’ emergency food assistance facilities have had to decrease the number of bags of food provided and/or the number of times people can receive food. Of these cities, 63 percent have had to increase the limit of food provided. Eighty-three of the survey cities reported that the food provided is nutritionally balanced. 

  • In 87 percent of the cities, families and individuals relied on emergency food assistance facilities both in emergencies and as a steady source of food over long periods of time. 

  • Unemployment and other employment-related problems lead the list of causes of hunger identified by the city officials. Other cited, in order of frequency, include high housing costs, poverty or lack of income, medical or health costs, mental health problems, substance abuse, transportation costs, high childcare costs, lack of education, and utility costs.

    Homelessness

  • During the past year, requests for emergency shelter increased in the survey cities by an average of six percent, with 71 percent of the cities registering an increase. Requests for shelter by homeless families alone increased by five percent, with 63 percent of the cities reporting an increase.

  • An average of 14 percent of the requests for emergency shelter by homeless people overall and 32 percent of the requests by homeless families alone are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year. In 88 percent of the cities, emergency shelters may have to turn away homeless families due to lack of resources; in 79 percent they may also have to turn away other homeless people.

  • People remain homeless an average of seven months in the survey cities. Eighty'seven percent of the cities said that the length of time people were homeless increased during the last year.

  • Lack of affordable housing leads the list of causes of homelessness identified by the city officials. Other causes cited, in order of frequency include low-paying jobs, mental illness and the lack of needed services, substance abuse and the lack of needed services, domestic violence, unemployment, poverty, and prisoner re-entry.

  • An average of 22 percent of homeless people in the cities are considered mentally ill; 30 percent are substance abusers; 15 percent are employed; and 11 percent are veterans.

  • In 57 percent of the cities, families may have to break up in order to be sheltered. In 48 percent of the cities families may have to spend their daytime hours outside of the shelter they use at night.

  • Requests for assisted housing by low-income families and individuals increased in 86 percent of the cities during the last year.

    Impact Of Hurricanes Katrina And Rita

  • Survey cities say that evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have not had a significant strain on their resources, but are concerned that a lack of federal commitment to the evacuees, many of whom may continue to reside in their communities, may eventually reduce resources devoted to the hungry and homeless.

  • Although it is difficult to say how much, survey cities believe that the impact of Hurricanes and Rita will be felt by them in 2006, as evacuees staying in their communities continue to need social services, food, and housing.

  • Survey cities say that the federal government’s policy for the evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should be extended to homeless people, especially making housing available within a relatively short time, and eliminating red tape for other social services.

    The Outlook

  • Officials in 90 percent of the responding cities expect requests for emergency food assistance to increase during 2006. Eighty'six percent expect that requests for emergency food assistance by families with children will increase during 2006. Officials in 93 percent of the cities expect that requests for emergency shelter will increase next year. Ninety-five percent expect that requests by homeless families will increase.

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