Survey: Hunger, homelessness still high
As the economy continues to struggle, the need for food and housing assistance from local governments has continued to increase, according to the annual report from the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, released in December. In response, cities and counties are taking several steps, such as increasing affordable housing, to address the problem.
The USCM survey, which includes information from 27 participating cities, found that requests for food assistance increased on average 24 percent between Sept. 1, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2010. And many of the faces are new, as nine out of 10 cities reported an increase in the number of people seeking assistance for the first time. Fifty-two percent of the surveyed cities reported an increase in homelessness, and all respondents reported a 9 percent increase in the number of homeless families.
While those needs have increased, 64 percent of surveyed cities expect resources to decrease, particularly because of federal and state assistance cutbacks. They say that the federal government could help by increasing benefits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and providing more affordable housing. Employment training programs and utility assistance programs also were popular options.
Since its 2005 inception, Denver’s Road Home (DRH), has built nearly 2,000 housing units for the city’s homeless, says Executive Director Amber Callender. Like many other cities in the USCM survey, Callender says Denver is seeing more families and first-time homelessness occur because of job losses, and the city is working with homeless service providers to monitor the need. So far, the city has been successful in finding resources to help those in need. “Fortunately for us, our government investment continues to be strong, as is our foundation, business and private support,” Callender says.
Among those requesting emergency food assistance, 56 percent were persons in families, 30 percent were employed, 19 percent were elderly, and 17 percent were homeless.
Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger cited by the survey cities, followed by high housing costs, low wages, poverty, and lack of access to SNAP/food stamps.
The cities reported a 17 percent average increase in the number of pounds of food distributed during the last year.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.