Hunger and homelessness have inched up in cities across the nation, according to a new report from The U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The annual report, which was released on Tuesday, stems from a survey of 22 mayors who serve on The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. The city officials provided information on their communities’ needs and resources from Sept. 1, 2014, through Aug. 31, 2015.
“Each year, we report on these challenges,” says Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of The U.S. Conference of Mayors. “And every year, we reiterate the need for more services. This year is no different.”
Cities surveyed include Asheville, N.C.; Baltimore; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Des Moines, Iowa; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; McKinney, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I.; Saint Paul, Minn.; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; San Francisco; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.
According to the report, the number of homeless people rose across the surveyed cities by an average of 1.6% over the past year—58% of the cities reported an increase, while 42% said they saw a decrease.
However, the surveyed cities saw a decline in the number of families experiencing homelessness. The report showed the number decreased by 5.2% over the past year, with 53% of cities reporting a decrease, 42% reporting an increase, and 5% remaining the same.
Lack of affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, and low-paying jobs were cited by city officials as some of the leading causes of homelessness.
On the hunger side, emergency food assistance in the surveyed cities increased by an average of 2.8%, with 66% of the cities reporting that they had seen more requests for assistance from the prior year. The cities also reported that they saw a 3% average boost of the number of pounds of food distributed over the past year.
According to the report, those requesting emergency food assistance included 67% who were persons in families, 42% who were employed, 23% who were elderly, and 10% who were homeless.
City officials attributed the causes of hunger to low wages, poverty, and high housing costs.
“There are no excuses to leaving hungry and homeless Americans behind,” says Ellen Vollinger, the legal director at the Food Research & Action Center.
Santa Barbara mayor and task force co-chair Helene Schneider says despite some of the efforts from cities, partnering agencies, local charities, and volunteers, problems still remain.
“Despite the budget problems we all face, all levels of government must work together to fight these painful problems,” she says.
City officials said providing more assisted housing and more permanent housing for people with disabilities are needed to reduce homelessness. They also cited jobs with higher wages, including a living wage, and affordable housing for reducing hunger. Also critical on that front is access to preventive health and an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Looking ahead, half of the cities said they expect to see the number of homeless families increase moderately over the next year, while 38% said they expect the number of homeless unaccompanied individuals to increase. On the hunger side, 65% of cities said they expect demand for emergency food assistance to also be on the rise.