Health & Human Services

Report: Hunger, Homelessness on the Rise in Many Cities

A report finds many cities are receiving more requests for food and housing assistance, but expect fewer resources to meet the demand.
by | December 11, 2013
 

As the sluggish economic recovery drags on, many of the nation’s cities report hunger and homelessness continue to rise.

In a report published today, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) surveyed a group of 25 cities to assess the need for services, finding many are unable to meet assistance demands at a time when resources are limited.

Requests for emergency food assistance increased in 83 percent of cities surveyed by an average of 7 percent. Cities reporting the largest year-over-year uptick in requests included Salt Lake City (15 percent), Washington, D.C., (12 percent) and Dallas (11 percent).

The strain on cities’ food assistance budgets varied, with a few reporting sharp year-over-year declines in spending, such as Charlotte (-40 percent) and Philadelphia (-32 percent). The degree to which spending cuts are felt, though, depends largely on how much food cities obtain from outside resources. Most larger cities receive the bulk of distributed food from donations or federal assistance.

The increase in demand, coupled with few additional resources, shifted the burden to low income families in some cities.

All cities responding to the survey reported either reductions in the amount of food distributed at food pantries or served in kitchens.

Officials in a dozen cities estimated the portion of their need for food assistance that could not be met:

  • Boston: 36%
  • Charleston: 0%
  • Charlotte: 20%
  • Denver: 15%
  • Des Moines: 18%
  • Philadelphia: 25%
  • Phoenix: 20%
  • Salt Lake City: 11%
  • San Antonio: 40%
  • San Francisco: 36%
  • Santa Barbara: 10%
  • Trenton: 20%

Cities reported similar challenges in addressing homelessness: 52 percent saw increases in the number of homeless individuals and 36 percent reported declines, with the remainder unchanged. Los Angeles (+26 percent) and Charleston (+24 percent) saw the largest estimated year-over-year increases in their homeless population.

City officials identified poverty, affordable housing and unemployment as primary barriers to alleviating homelessness.

Homelessness among veterans was one area identified where cities are making progress. Nearly all surveyed had received federal grants designated for addressing the issue, and 79 percent reported the funds had helped to push down the homeless veteran population. In addition, 56 percent of officials said they expected the Department of Veterans Affairs to achieve its goal of eliminating veterans’ homelessness by the end of 2015.

On a call with reporters, USCM officials warned that spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal grants would further complicate matters for cities.

“We are very concerned that before budget cuts take place, the mindset of Washington does not understand our neighborhoods and cities – large and small – across America,” said Tom Cochran, USCM’s executive director.

Most surveyed expected homelessness to increase or remain the same in their cities next year, while all but Dallas projected more food assistance requests.

The following table shows cities’ responses regarding expected requests and resources for 2014:

City Number Homeless Families Number Homeless Individuals Emergency Shelter Resources Emergency Food Assistance Requests Emergency Food Assistance Resources
Asheville Increase Moderately Same Same Increase Moderately Decrease Moderately
Boston Increase Substantially Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately
Charleston Same Same Decrease Substantially Increase Moderately Decrease Substantially
Charlotte Increase Moderately Decrease Moderately Decrease Moderately Increase Substantially  
Chicago Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Same Increase Moderately Decrease Moderately
Cleveland Same Same Decrease Moderately Increase Substantially Same
Dallas Same Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately Same Decrease Moderately
Denver Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately
Des Moines Decrease Moderately Decrease Moderately Decrease Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Substantially
Los Angeles Decrease Moderately Increase Moderately Decrease Substantially Increase Moderately Increase Moderately
Louisville Increase Moderately Same Decrease Moderately Increase Moderately Increase Moderately
Memphis Decrease Moderately Same Decrease Substantially    
Nashville Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Same Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately
Norfolk Decrease Moderately Decrease Moderately Decrease Moderately    
Philadelphia Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Same Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately
Phoenix Same Decrease Moderately Same Increase Moderately Decrease Substantially
Plano       Increase Substantially Increase Substantially
Providence Same Same Same Increase Moderately Decrease Substantially
Saint Paul Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Same Increase Substantially Same
Salt Lake City Same Increase Moderately Decrease Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately
San Antonio Increase Moderately Same Decrease Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately
San Francisco Same Same Increase Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Substantially
Santa Barbara Increase Moderately Increase Moderately Decrease Moderately Increase Moderately Decrease Moderately
Trenton Increase Moderately Increase Substantially Decrease Moderately Increase Moderately Decrease Substantially
Washington, D.C. Same Same Same   Increase Substantially
Source: USCM survey of participating cities

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