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Slow Economic Recovery Keeps Pressure on U.S. Cities’ Emergency Food, Shelter Services
Mayors’ Annual Report on Hunger and Homelessness Documents Growth in Demand, Shortfall in Services, Concern for Future

January 14, 2013


A survey report issued by The U.S. Conference of Mayors just days before the threatened sequestration of tens of billions of dollars of federal agency funds projects the need for more, not less, spending in the year ahead to meet the needs of growing numbers of hungry and homeless families and individuals in the nation’s cities.

Released December 21 in Washington (DC), the Conference of Mayors annual assessment of hunger and homelessness found continuing growth in the demand for emergency food and housing across 25 cities whose mayors are members of the Conference of Mayors Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. Not surprisingly, unemployment and poverty lead the list of causes of hunger citied by officials in the survey cities; lack of affordable housing, poverty, and unemployment are seen as the main causes of homelessness.

All but four of the cities in this year’s survey reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year, and three of these four said requests remained at the same level as the previous year. Across the cities, the increase in demand averaged 22 percent, and 19 percent of those needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Emergency kitchens and food pantries in nearly all of the cities had to reduce the quantity of food a client could receive during a food pantry visit or in a meal at an emergency kitchen. In nearly 90 percent of the cities, lack of resources meant that these facilities had to turn away people in need.

On the homeless front, 60 percent of the cities said they saw an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness; across the cities, the increase averaged seven percent. Over 70 percent of the cities reported an increase in homelessness among families; 35 percent reported an increase among individuals. Across the survey cities, an average of 17 percent of homeless persons needing assistance did not receive it. Because no beds were available for them, homeless families with children were turned away by emergency shelters in 64 percent of the survey cities; shelters in 60 percent of the cities had to turn away unaccompanied individuals.

This year’s report was released in a telephone press conference by members of the Conference of Mayors leadership group, who were joined by the Director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “We expected that problems related to the slow national economic recovery would be reflected in the reports on hunger and homelessness coming in from the survey cities this year – and they were,” said Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, who Chairs the mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. “Dealing with growing needs in the face of dwindling resources is nothing new for mayors, but we are especially concerned about what could happen to our emergency food and shelter programs next year, and in the years beyond, if Washington cannot find a responsible way around – not over – the fiscal cliff,” she said.

Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter cited the mayors’ repeated appeals to Congress for a balanced approach to fiscal responsibility that will create options for people increasingly reliant on emergency help. “In Philadelphia, I see people who are hungry and in need of shelter on a daily basis,” he said, “and explaining to them that Congress is cutting funding for the help they need is not acceptable. What they need are jobs so they can support their families, and Congress can help to create those jobs if it passes a fair and balanced budget with investments in infrastructure, innovation, and real people.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who Chairs the Conference of Mayors Committee on Metro Economies, described this year’s report as a “stark reminder of the long-lasting impact that the recession is having on too many of our citizens. Families who once lived in middle class homes now find themselves without a roof over their heads and, for the first time in their lives, in need of a variety of social services that have been hard for us to provide, and that uncertainty about the federal fiscal future could make even harder to provide.”

Survey city officials are pessimistic about the future: Three out of four expect requests for emergency food assistance to increase over the next year, and nearly half expect that resources to provide emergency assistance will decrease – some (22 percent) say substantially. The combination of increasing demand and decreasing resources was cited most frequently by officials as the biggest challenge they will face in addressing hunger in the coming year.

Officials in 60 percent of the cities expect the number of homeless families to increase over the next year; those in 56 percent of the cities expect the number of homeless unaccompanied individuals to increase; and those in more than 58 percent expect that the resources needed to provide emergency shelter will decrease.

“For the past 30 years, this report has called national attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness in this country and has helped to direct resources where they are needed,” Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran explained. “Looking back over the past year, problems have been made worse by the slow recovery from our economic recession. Looking ahead, we see the problems continuing, so the Conference of Mayors will continue to document the need for emergency services in cities across America, as a service to the nation’s mayors and to the families and individuals in their communities who need our help.”

A copy of the report, which also contains descriptions of dozens of programs that the survey cities have undertaken to combat hunger and homelessness, can be downloaded from the Conference of Mayors Web site at www.usmayors.org. An audio file of the press conference call also is available on this site.

The 25 cities participating in this year’s survey on hunger and homelessness are:

Asheville, NC

Boston, MA

Charleston, SC

Charlotte, NC

Chicago, IL

Cleveland, OH

Dallas, TX

Denver, CO

Des Moines, IA

Gastonia, NC

Los Angeles, CA

Louisville, KY

Minneapolis, MN

Nashville, TN

Norfolk, VA

Philadelphia, PA

Phoenix, AZ

Portland, OR

Providence, RI

San Antonio, TX

St. Paul, MN

Salt Lake City, UT

San Francisco, CA

Trenton, NJ

Washington, DC