Cities Report More Hunger and Homelessness Than Ever

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has released the results of its annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey. As its press release says, they show that “issues of hunger and homelessness are more prevalent than ever.”

The main cause, of course, is the economic downturn. But the results indicate other factors–particularly, the ongoing shortage of affordable housing.

The results also show that cities are struggling to keep up with increasing needs for assistance. Many have had to deny urgently-needed services. Here are a few of the “lowlights:”

Of the 25 cities reporting:

  • Most, at times, did not have enough shelter space to meet demand. “It was not uncommon to turn people away due to lack of available beds.”
  • Most had closed their waiting lists for public housing or housing vouchers because demand was so much greater than supply.
  • Demand for emergency food assistance exceeded supply in all but 5 cities.
  • Food pantries in 13 had had to turn people away, and pantries in 16 were reducing the amount of food people could receive at each visit.

These results do not reflect the full impacts of the recession because the end of the reporting period was September 30. Yet they clearly demonstrate a growing crisis that “cities, regardless of size, cannot handle alone.”

They can’t look to their state governments for much, if any help. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, are facing shortfalls in their current budgets. In fact, D.C. officials  just announced a $127 million shortfall–this on top of the $131 million shortfall the City Council eliminated in November.

What’s clearly needed is a swift infusion of federal funds targeted to programs that will ease the hardships of poor and near-poor individuals and families. This should be a major focus of the new economic stimulus package that President-elect Obama and Congressional leaders have promised.


3 Responses to Cities Report More Hunger and Homelessness Than Ever

  1. Diane Nilan says:

    Yes, the US Conference of Mayors released their report. My more skeptical comments are posted on my blog,

    But a lesser noticed report was also released last week, citing the economic crisis hitting families. Economic Crisis Hitting Home is probably more significant than the USCM report because it looks at a broader scope and has more “close to the ground” information based on better data.

    Links to all these reports are on the above-mentioned site.

    All that being said, I’m glad to find your site.

  2. kathrynbaer says:

    I wouldn’t for a moment quarrel with your sense of urgency or your impatience with elected officials. Nor would I argue that the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual survey has, in and of itself, produced any results. I think that’s something we simply cannot know. What I’m pretty certain of is that the Conference can get the attention of federal and state officials, and that is an essential first step. I’m also quite certain that, HUD notwithstanding, Members of Congress are not in the dark about widespread hunger and homelessness in their communities.

    So there are certainly good reasons for your cynicism. But I think that cities have made progress in the last 22 years—at least, that a goodly number have implemented programs without which the problems of hunger and homeless would be even worse than they are. My main point is that cities do not have the resources to deal with the magnitude of these problems. Nor do the states. For one thing, they are legally required to balance their budgets every year. The federal government isn’t. That’s one reason I believe we should focus our advocacy efforts on the incoming Administration and Congress.

    I’m glad to discover your blog too! You and your colleagues at Hear Us are doing great work.

  3. […] from two recent reports I’ve already written about–the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 2008 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness and the survey of school districts by the National Association for the Education of Homeless […]

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