Lewis Diuguid

Hunger, homelessness continue as big problems in U.S. cities this holiday season

Crews earlier this month began the clean up process at a homeless encampment known as The Jungle in San Jose, Calif. Police and social-workers cleared away one of the nation's largest homeless encampments. The 32nd annual assessment of hunger and homelessness done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found homelessness and hunger to be twin American problems.
Crews earlier this month began the clean up process at a homeless encampment known as The Jungle in San Jose, Calif. Police and social-workers cleared away one of the nation's largest homeless encampments. The 32nd annual assessment of hunger and homelessness done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found homelessness and hunger to be twin American problems. The Associated Press

It’s hard for some people to get into the holiday season if they don’t have a home from which to celebrate Christmas.

The 32nd annual assessment of hunger and homelessness report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors released last week found that despite the economic recovery and booming stock market, the twin problems of hunger and homelessness are increasing demand for emergency food and housing assistance across the country.

Homelessness increased by 1 percent overall. For families, it was up an average of 3 percent; 43 percent of the 25 cities in the survey reported an increase, and 22 percent said the number stayed the same as the previous year.

Of the homeless population, 28 percent of the adults were severely mentally ill, 22 percent were physically disabled, 15 percent were victims of domestic violence and 3 percent were HIV positive. In addition, 18 percent of the adults who were homeless were employed and 13 percent were veterans.

For families with children, the lack of affordable housing was cited by city officials as the leading cause of homelessness. Of the survey cities, an average of 22 percent of the emergency shelter demand went unmet. Emergency shelters in 73 percent of the survey cities had to turn away homeless families with children because there were no beds available.

Hunger is a problem affecting more people than just those without a home. On hunger, the report found that 71 percent of the cities in the survey saw requests for emergency food assistance go up an average of 7 percent over the last year. Of those seeking help, 56 percent were people in families, 38 percent were employed, 20.5 percent were elderly and 7 percent were homeless.

The cities said there was a 9 percent average jump in the number of pounds of food distributed this year compared with last year. Budgets for emergency food purchases increased only 5 percent.

Rationing has had to occur. Eighty-two percent of the cities reported that emergency kitchens and food pantries had to reduce the quantity of food persons could receive at each food pantry visit and in the amount of food offered per meal at emergency kitchens.

In 77 percent of the cities, they had to cut back on the number of times a person or families could go to food pantries each month. And in 77 percent of the cities, facilities had to turn away people because they had no resources available.

The future doesn’t look good. Eighty-four percent of the survey cities expect the demand for emergency food to increase in the New Year, and 44 percent of the cities expect there to be fewer resources to provide emergency food assistance.

The 25 cities whose mayors are members of The U.S. Conference of Mayors Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness are Asheville, N.C.; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Des Moines; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Memphis; Nashville; Norfolk, Va.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Plano, Texas; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn.; Salt Lake City; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Trenton, N.J.; and Washington, D.C.

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