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.