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