Hunger and homelessness rise in U.S. cities: report

WASHINGTON Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:28pm EST

Workers fill carts with food for the poor at the Foothill Unity Center food bank in Monrovia, California, November 14, 2012. REUTERS/David McNew

Workers fill carts with food for the poor at the Foothill Unity Center food bank in Monrovia, California, November 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David McNew

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Across the United States, the number of hungry and homeless people is growing, and budget fights at the federal level are threatening the aid many need to survive, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said on Thursday.

Amidst the holiday season of family feasts and corporate dinners, the mayors released a report that found requests for emergency food assistance rose in 21 out of the 25 cities it surveyed in 2012 and remained at the same level in three. More than half the cities said homelessness increased.

"This report is a stark reminder of the long-lasting impact the recession has had on many of our citizens," Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, said in a statement. "Families, who once lived in middle class homes, now find themselves without a roof over their heads, needing multiple social services for the first time in their lives."

The 25 cities are of varying size and wealth in all regions of the country. They included Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Nashville, Tennessee.

Among those seeking emergency food, 51 percent were in families and 37 percent were employed. Nearly 1 in 6 - 17 percent - were elderly and 8.5 percent were homeless, according to the survey.

Nearly all of the cities reported a rise in the number of people seeking emergency food for the first time.

"In Philadelphia, I see people who are hungry and in need of shelter on a daily basis and explaining to them that Congress is cutting funding for the help they need is not acceptable," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement.

The impending "fiscal cliff" has people with lower and middle incomes worried government funds for safety net programs will drop just as emergency unemployment benefits end. President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress are negotiating on how to avert tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect at the beginning of 2013.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are pressing to cut $16 billion from food stamps as they hammer out an overdue farm bill.

The 2007-2009 recession pushed up poverty and unemployment, while enrollment for food stamps, which help cover grocery costs, soared. As economic recovery takes hold, the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.7 percent from a peak of 10 percent. Still, the country's poverty rate remains at 15 percent and a record 47.7 million people use food stamps.

Meeting the demand has been hard, and many places had to portion out aid in 2012, the survey found.

In 95 percent of the cities surveyed, food pantries cut the amount of food each person received and soup kitchens reduced meal sizes. In almost all the cities, pantries capped people's monthly visits as well. More than half the cities said homeless families with children were denied shelter in 2012.

The hunger problem is likely to get worse next year. Three-fourths of the cities expect the need for food to rise. No city expects a decrease.

Sixty percent of the cities surveyed expect an increase in the number of families without shelter and 56 percent anticipate a rise in homeless individuals. More than half the cities say there will not be enough shelters available.


The survey confirms what many soup kitchens, pantries and other charities have been saying throughout 2012.

"We are always at capacity. If you are in a flood and someone says more water is coming you might not be able to tell because you are already in a flood," said George Jones, chief executive officer of Bread for the City in Washington, this fall about a rise in the number of people seeking help.

In the survey, Washington said the Capital Area Food Bank, an umbrella organization for assistance groups in Washington, is reaching two-thirds of those at risk of hunger.

Officials at the food bank said calls to its hotline jumped 25 percent last year and it also opened a new warehouse in June to double its capacity and keep up with rising hunger. For the first time they are coordinating help at a military base, sending a truck to serve about 250 families at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

Michael Blue, a 62-year-old part-time bus driver in Washington, gets help from Bread for the City. He says work is so sporadic that he has to scrounge for cash to pay rent and utilities. But his $13,300 annual income tops the government's poverty threshold, disqualifying him from some welfare programs. He receives about $200 a month in food stamps.

"They tell me that I don't qualify for help, but anybody who makes $13,000 or even $20,000 a year these days cannot survive," Blue said.

Between jobs he jots down telephone numbers from tour buses headed to Washington's monuments, then calls to see if they need drivers. He cannot recall the last time he had a full-time job.

"I am just being priced out of existence," he said.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (1)
Balticgirl wrote:
Good article! Unfortunately it takes feeling females to realize or acknowledge the crisis.
Kudos to Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Lucia Mutikani

There is absolutely NO excuse for this.
The USA pays out billions to fight foreign “civil wars”, yet the US Congress refuses to help the needy here and leaves many American people hungry and homeless. What is the matter with this high and almighty regime in Washington? Is only what they care about is fulfilling the war lobbies wants?

Good night America, there is no more justice and liberty for all anymore… or was there to begin with? Do our representatives think of compassion only by asking the masses for donations for their out of control campaign funds. Life on earth is not just about supporting non-productive foreign wars only to acquire more wealth for war commerce, their shareholders, and the already wealthy. For some, much wealth was acquired through unethical methods. When are the American people waking up and putting a stop to this out of control rollercoaster? We need to reevaluate our 1776 constitution and our political system, including the US justice and financial systems. And we need to ask; do we need a US Congress? We have enough Governors to handle each state on a smaller scale so much better. Our US Congress caters to special interest groups only and not the US people. Congress wants to cut support to US seniors and the US workers, and Congress continues to support only it’s members with special privileges, breaks, quirks and the best benefits money can buy for themselves, even though they have not earned it, at least not the last four years. All America gets is bickering and when in front of a TV camera, we get even more quacking from the petered out sitting ducks.

I advocate term limits to bring a breeze of fresh air into the duck pond, or dissolve the Washington circus show altogether and have each state govern it’s own affairs, except in cross state and national disasters, they can pool resources. American politics have gotten too big and nothing for the people gets done anymore it is all for big businesses only. They all want to collect tax money from the big piggy bank…yet they do not want pay any into it. That alone ought to raise a flag. Or have people become so indifferent, they do not know what is right from wrong? We need good paying jobs for all and not just the employees of government contractors. The whole country runs on people power and it shall be compensated fairly and not just for few strong corporations. Banks ought to serve the clients all clients if they want to play in hedge funds they ought to do just that with their own private money and not scam from the public account holders. I hope the younger generations will not put up with such ineffective congress or abolish it altogether. It certainly will have my vote. Times are changing and we do not need to be bullied by a couple of power clawing politicians. The people put them there and the people ought to be able to remove them. Happy holidays and a healthy new Year! – IO

Dec 21, 2012 10:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
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