Report on Homelessness and Hunger: Increased Demand, Uptick in Need for 2014

Photo Franco Folini/Flickr
Photo Franco Folini/Flickr

The U.S. Conference of Mayors released their 31st survey on homelessness and hunger on Wednesday. The report shows that many cities have seen an uptick in the numbers of people without a place to live or enough to eat. Many city officials expect requests for shelter and food to increase in further during 2014.

The report is based on responses to survey questions by officials of the twenty five cities that are members of the Conference’s task force on hunger and homelessness. California is represented on the task force and in the survey, by San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, whose mayor; Barbara Schneider co-chairs the task force and was one of the city leaders earlier this week on a conference call with reporters to announce the survey findings.

“Our cities’ outlook for the year ahead is decidedly pessimistic,” said Schneider. “Of the 22 cities able to project demand for emergency food assistance, all but one expect these requests to increase [and] the biggest challenge the cities would face in addressing hunger  would be “cuts in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits being considered by Congress, and the inability of food assistance programs to meet the increased demand that would result.”

On housing Schneider said that the survey found that 62 percent of the cities cited in the report expected to see resources for emergency shelters   decrease over the next year, and 14 percent expected the decrease to be substantial.

While a report released in November by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that overall homelessness has decreased in the U.S., that report also found that some communities, New York City and Los Angeles in particular still have very high rates of homelessness. According to the HUD report, nearly 20 percent of people experiencing homelessness were in either Los Angeles (nine percent of total or 53,798) or New York City (11 percent of total or 64,060). Los Angeles experienced the largest increase among major cities, reporting 11,445 more individuals living in homelessness (or 27 percent) in 2013 compared to 2012.

And the U.S. Department of Education released a report recently that found that last year the number of homeless students hit a record high.

While a preliminary budget agreement between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate was announced earlier in the week that could alleviate some of the prior and anticipated cuts for housing and food assistance, several mayors on the call said their resources depended on the final budget bill passed, which can change significantly from the draft bill.

According to data from the report, the chief reason for homelessness among individuals was unemployment, and for families it was poverty according to the survey data.  “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, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

One bright spot: Most mayors are able to point to is a reduction in homelessness for veterans, propelled by increased attention and funding especially at the federal level. All but two of the survey cities reported success obtaining federal funds aimed at helping homeless veterans from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration, which has set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015.

Key findings of the Report:

  • Across the survey cities, emergency requests increased by an average of 7 percent.
  • More than one in five people needing emergency assistance did not receive it.
  •  Among those requesting emergency food this year, 58 percent were members of families, 43 percent were employed, 21 percent were elderly, and 9 percent were homeless.
  • The number of families experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 4 percent, with 64 percent of the cities reporting an increase.
  • The number of individuals experiencing homelessness increased across the cities by an average of 4 percent, with 54 percent of cities reporting an increase.
  •  An average of 22 percent of homeless persons needing assistance did not receive it during the past year .
  • Emergency shelters in 71 percent of the survey cities must turn away homeless individuals and families at times.

California-based Initiatives to Help Alleviate Hunger and Homelessness 

Many of the survey cities have launched programs to help residents find housing and food, often partnering with schools, businesses and faith-based organizations. Innovations among the California cities represented on the task force include:

Los Angeles: 

  • The city has established a hotline for people facing foreclosure which provides information about remediation programs.
  • The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, in partnership with the City and County of Los Angeles, has pooled resources to fund the Family Solutions Centers which will provide intake assessment, and housing and supportive services interventions to homeless families and families at-risk across LA county with the goal of keeping families from becoming homeless and to end families’ homelessness as quickly as possible. Los Angeles also conducts outreach to homeless families living in cars, vans, and campers, to help them move into a stable living environment.

San Francisco: 

  • The San Francisco Food Bank Pantry helps feed 30,000 households through partnerships with community-based organization. While the average amount of food distributed by food banks is less than 100 pounds per person, the San Francisco program distributed on average 400 pounds per person of which 70 percent was fresh produce that was displayed at pantry outlets in the style of a farmer’s market.
  • The Food Bank also launched a pantry menu especially for formerly homeless individuals in single room occupancy housing who may not have access to full cooking facilities for their food preparation.
  • Another key program of the pantry s a grocery delivery service to homebound seniors who may not qualify for delivered meals but who usually don’t have the strength to travel to food pantries for provisions.

Santa Barbara:

  • Collaboration between local agencies and the VA clinic has provided multiple access points for veterans dealing with homelessness
  • A program run by the police department, the court and health care system and social service agencies, helps guide people who are homeless to detox, housing, or work programs, According to the Mayors’ report, “through customized recovery plans, many have [formerly homeless individuals ] have achieved sobriety, safe housing, and a healthy lifestyle.”
  • A housing Placement Work Group comprised of housing providers, social service agencies, and County Mental Health and Public Health Departments has been working to house individuals and families and holds a biweekly conference call to discuss cases and set up a support network to help keep the most vulnerable people housed

These examples are just a few of the many initiatives described in the report and showcase a “growing recognition that that investing in homelessness is more cost effective than not,” said Laura Zeilinger, Deputy Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness,

“We have a path to end homelessness,” said Zeilinger. “Now we must invest in solutions and stay the course.”

Added Santa Barbara Mayor Schneider, “the bright spot is [the continuing reduction in homelessness among] veterans. It just shows that when you have all these agencies collaborating, you can see results.”

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