Providing more affordable housing tops officials’ lists for reducing hunger and homelessness in the nation’s cities, according to an annual U.S. Conference of Mayors survey.
Officials in 25 cities whose mayors serve on The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness provided local information from Sept. 1, 2013, to Aug. 31, 2014.
The 32nd annual report that was released in December found an increase in demand in services and shortfalls in resources for the survey cities.
“There’s no question that we’re coming back as the nation’s economy is on the mend, but there’s also no question that the slow pace of the recovery in the past years has made it difficult and, for many in our cities impossible, to respond to the gripping needs of hunger and homelessness in America,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of The U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The total number of homeless people increased by an average of 1 percent across the survey cities, with 48 percent of the cities reporting an increase, 39 percent reporting a decrease, and 13 percent staying the same.
The average increased for families experiencing homelessness by 3 percent, and the number of unaccompanied individuals experiencing homelessness decreased by an average of 0.7 percent.
The lack of affordable housing topped the city officials’ list of the leading causes of homelessness among families with children and unaccompanied individuals. Unemployment, poverty, low-paying jobs, and mental illness also were cited as causes leading to homelessness.
In the coming year, 39 percent of the survey cities projected that the number of homeless families will increase moderately. However, 30 percent predicted the number will stay the same and 30 percent predicted it will go down.
For homeless unaccompanied individuals, 43 percent of the cities projected that they will see a moderate decrease, 30 percent projected a moderate increase, and 26 percent reported that they think the number will stay at the same level.
On a positive note, all but one of the survey cities reported that they have been successful in obtaining Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs (VA), and other federal funds targeted for homeless veterans. Almost two-thirds of the cities said their experience suggests the VA will reach its goal of eliminated veterans homelessness by the end of this year.
To reduce homelessness in their cities, officials reported that more mainstream assisted housing is needed, followed by more permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities and better-paying job opportunities.
On the hunger side, 71 percent of the survey cities reported that they saw an increase in emergency food assistance requests. Low wages led the officials’ list of causes of hunger, followed by poverty, unemployment, and high housing costs.
And the need isn’t expected to wane: 84 percent of the survey cities projected that requests will increase over the next year, and 44 percent reported that they expect resources to decrease at the same time.
At the top of city officials’ list of actions needed to reduce hunger are providing more jobs and providing more affordable housing, followed by employment training programs and an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.