United States Conference of Mayors
A Status report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities
This report presents the results of a survey of 29 of the cities which comprise The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. Respondents were asked to provide information on emergency food assistance and homeless services provided between September 1,2010 and August 31,2011.
In October 1982,The U.S. Conference of Mayors and The U.S. Conference of City Human Services Officials brought the shortage of emergency services – food,shelter,medical care,income assistance,and energy assistance – to national attention through a survey of 55 cities of all sizes in all regions of the country. The report on this ground-breaking survey described how the demand for emergency services had increased in cities across the nation and how the cities were able to meet,on average,only 43 percent of that demand.
Since that time,the Conference of Mayors has produced numerous reports on hunger,homelessness,and poverty in U.S. cities. These reports have documented the magnitude and causes of these problems,the responses to them made by individual cities,and the national responses that city leaders believed were needed. A list of all past reports can be found in Appendix E to this report.
In September 1983,to spearhead the Conference of Mayors’ efforts to respond to the emergency services crisis,the President of the Conference appointed 20 mayors to a Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. This initial Task Force was chaired by New Orleans Mayor Ernest “Dutch”Morial. Currently,the Task Force is co-chaired by Kansas City,Missouri Mayor Sly James and Asheville,North Carolina Mayor Terry. M. Bellamy.
Among the survey’s key findings:
- All but four (86 percent) of the survey cities reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year;two cities said requests remained at the same level and two said they decreased. Across the survey cities,emergency food assistance requests increased by an average of 15.5 percent.
- Among those requesting emergency food assistance,51 percent were persons in families,26 percent were employed,19 percent were elderly,and 11 percent were homeless.
- Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger cited by the survey cities,followed by poverty,low wages,and high housing costs.
- The cities reported a 10 percent average increase in the number of pounds of food distributed during the last year. Just over two-thirds of the cities (68 percent) saw an increase in the number of pounds of food distributed;just over one-fifth (21 percent) reported a decrease,and 11 percent said it remained the same.
- Seventy-one percent of the cities reported that their total budget for emergency food purchases increased over the last year;18 percent (five) of the cities said it remained the same;11 percent (three) of the cities said it decreased;. Across the responding cities,the average increase in the budget for emergency food purchases was 13 percent.
- Across the survey cities,27 percent of the people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it.
- In 86 percent of the survey cities,emergency kitchens and food pantries had to reduce the quantity of food persons can receive at each food pantry visit or the amount of food offered per meal at emergency kitchens. In 82 percent (23) of the cities they had to turn people away because of lack of resources. In 68 percent (19) of the cities they had to reduce the number of times a person or family can visit a food pantry each month.
- Providing more affordable housing led the city officials’ list of actions needed to reduce hunger. This was followed by increasing food stamp benefits and providing more employment training programs.
- No survey city expects requests for emergency food assistance to decline over the next year,and all but two of the cities (93 percent) expect these requests to increase,with that increase expected to be substantial in 34 percent of the cities and moderate in 59 percent. The other two cities expect requests to remain at the same level.
- Three-fourths of the cities expect that resources to provide emergency food assistance will decrease over the next year,and 41 percent of these cities expect that decrease to be substantial. Thirty-four percent expect resources to decrease moderately and 21 percent expect they will continue at about the same level. One city anticipates a moderate increase in resources.
- The combination of increasing demand and decreasing resources was cited most frequently by survey city officials as the biggest challenge they will face in addressing hunger in the coming year. Of particular concern are cuts in federal commodities and funding,declining food donations,and the negative impact of the economy and unemployment.
- Over the past year,the number of persons experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of six percent,with 42 percent of the cities reporting an increase and 19 percent saying the number stayed the same. Thirty-eight percent of the cities said the number decreased.
- Among families,the number experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 16 percent,with six in 10 of the cities reporting an increase,16 percent saying the number stayed the same,and 24 percent reporting a decrease.
- Among unaccompanied individuals,the number experiencing homelessness over the past year increased across the survey cities by an average of less than one percent,with four in ten reporting an increase and eight percent saying it stayed the same. Fifty-two percent reported a decrease.
- Among households with children,unemployment led the list of causes of homelessness cited by city officials. This was followed by lack of affordable housing and by poverty. Unemployment also led the list of causes of homelessness among unaccompanied individuals,followed by lack of affordable housing,mental illness and the lack of needed services,and substance abuse and the lack of needed services.
- The survey cities reported that,on average,26 percent of homeless adults were severely mentally ill,16 percent were physically disabled,15 percent were employed,13 percent were victims of domestic violence,13 percent were veterans,and four percent were HIV Positive.
- Across the survey cities over the last year,an average of 18 percent of homeless persons needing assistance did not receive it. Because no beds are available for them,emergency shelters in two thirds of the survey cities must turn away homeless families with children;shelters in 70 percent of the cities must turn away unaccompanied individuals.
- Fifty-nine percent of the survey cities have adopted policies and/or implemented programs aimed at preventing homelessness among households that have lost,or may lose,their homes to foreclosure.
- Providing more mainstream assisted housing led the list of actions needed to reduce homelessness in the survey cities. This was followed by providing more permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities,and having more or better-paying employment opportunities.
- Officials in 64 percent of the survey cities expect the number of homeless families to increase over the next year,and 11 percent of these expect the increase will be substantial. The increase is expected to be moderate in 53.5 percent of the cities. Eighteen percent expect the number will remain at about the same level. A moderate decrease is expected in 14 percent of the cities,and one city anticipates a substantial decrease.
- Officials in 55 percent of the cities expect the number of homeless unaccompanied individuals to increase over the next year,with one city expecting a substantial increase. More than half (52 percent) are expecting a moderate increase and 24 percent expect the number will remain at about the same level. A moderate decrease is expected in 21 percent of the cities.
- No survey city expects resources to provide emergency shelter to increase over the next year. Officials in 64 percent of the survey cities expect resources to decrease,and the balance of the cities is expecting that they will continue at about the same level.