New Report: Continued Rise in Hunger and Homelessness for 2014

Dec 12, 2013, 1:33 PM

Chefs cooking in restaurant kitchen. Food pantries in 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided because of budget challenges.

Unemployment and poverty top the reasons why homelessness and hunger continue to grow in the U.S., according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors 31st Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released yesterday. “There’s no question that the nation’s economy is on the mend, but there’s also no question that the slow pace of recovery is making it difficult and, for many, impossible, to respond to the growing needs of the hungry and the homeless,” said Tom Cochran, executive director of the Conference of Mayors during a conference call with reporters yesterday about the report.  

The new report is based on surveys of city officials in the 25 cities that make up the Conference’s task force on Hunger and Homelessness, and all but one of the participating cities said requests for help had either gone up or stayed the same as the previous year.

Additional findings of the report include:

  • The number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 4 percent.
  • More than one in five people needing assistance did not receive it because of insufficient city and donated funds.
  • Because of the increase in requests many emergency kitchens and food pantries in the 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided to individuals or families.  

One positive note in this year’s report was an increase in aid provided to homeless veterans because of targeted efforts by cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration. Eighty percent of the survey cities were able to find stable housing for some previously homeless veterans.

Many of the 25 survey cities addressed homelessness and hunger problems by adopting innovative programs specific to their communities to address and improve the situation. The Conference of Mayors report includes many examples both to highlight innovation and to serve as models for other cities working to improve the housing and food security conditions of their citizens:

Dallas: Using jury stipends donated by jurors, the Dallas County Juvenile Department has created a food pantry at the city’s Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program specifically for 1,300 students in the program who live in group homes or with relatives who may not be able to provide adequate food supplies.

Salt Lake City: The city has created a mobile food pantry that can be dispatched to communities to provide food when supplies run short at permanent food pantries.

San Francisco: The San Francisco Food Bank has several novel ideas for providing food to people who need it including a new food pantry menu of foods that need little or no preparation for single-room occupancy hotels that house formerly homeless people who may not have full cooking facilities; a morning snack program for schools with a high rate of low-income children, and a grocery delivery service for homebound low-income seniors who are not eligible for meals on wheels, but do not have the physical strength to visit a food pantry.

Louisville: The Homeless Veterans Outreach Program has four staff members who do outreach to veterans at day and evening emergency shelters and have created a list of all homeless veterans in the community that is used to place them in housing and connect them to services.

Chicago: The Corporation for Supportive Housing in Chicago manages a centralized, web-based application process for permanent supportive housing. Priority for the list is set through the use of an evidence-based tool, the Vulnerability Index, which identifies the medical vulnerability of homeless individuals.

>>Bonus Link: Read a recent NewPublicHealth post about a recent rise in the numbers of U.S. students who are homeless.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.