Summary: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in American Cities — 1998
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    To assess the status of hunger and homelessness in America's cities during 1998 The U.S. Conference of Mayors surveyed 30 major cities whose mayors were members of its Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. The survey sought information and estimates from each city on 1) the demand for emergency food assistance and emergency shelter and the capacity of local agencies to meet that demand; 2) the causes of hunger and homelessness and the demographics of the populations experiencing these problems; 3) exemplary programs or efforts in the cities to respond to hunger and homelessness; 4) the availability of affordable housing for low income people; 5) the outlook for the future and the impact of the economy on hunger and homelessness.

    Among the findings of the 30-city survey:

    HUNGER

    • Officials in the survey cities estimate that during the past year requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 14 percent, with 78 percent of the cities registering an increase. Requests for food assistance by families with children increased by an average of 14 percent. Requests for emergency food assistance by elderly persons increased by an average six percent during the last year, with 67 percent of the cities reporting an increase.
    • On average, 21 percent of the requests for emergency food assistance are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year. For families alone, 18 percent of the requests for assistance are estimated to have gone unmet. In 47 percent of the cities, emergency food assistance facilities may have to turn away people in need due to lack of resources.
    • Sixty-one percent of the people requesting emergency food assistance were members of families -- children and their parents. Thirty-seven percent of the adults requesting food assistance were employed.

    • The overall level of resources available to emergency food assistance facilities increased by 24 percent during the last year. Forty-seven percent of the survey cities reported that emergency food assistance facilities are able to provide an adequate quantity of food. In 60 percent of the cities emergency food assistance facilities have had to decrease the number of bags of food provided and/or the number of times people can receive food. Of these cities, 50 percent have had to increase the limit on food provided. Seventy-seven percent of the survey cities reported that the food provided is nutritionally balanced.
    • In 92 percent of the cities, emergency food assistance facilities were relied on by families and individuals both in emergencies and as a steady source of food over long periods of time.
    • Low-paying jobs lead the list of causes of hunger identified by the city officials. Other causes cited, in order of frequency, include high housing costs, unemployment and other employment-related problems, food stamp cuts, poverty or lack of income, low benefits in public assistance programs and substance abuse.
    • During the last year, 67 percent of the survey cities supported local emergency food assistance efforts. Twenty-three percent used locally generated revenues; two percent used Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act funds; 14 percent used state grants; four percent used Community Services Block Grant Funds and 27 percent used Community Development Block Grant funds.

    HOMELESSNESS

    • During the past year requests for emergency shelter increased in the survey cities by an average of 11 percent, with 72 percent of the cities registering an increase. Requests for shelter by homeless families alone increased by 15 percent, with 64 percent of the cities reporting an increase.
    • An average of 26 percent of the requests for emergency shelter by homeless people overall and 30 percent of the requests by homeless families alone are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year. In 67 percent of the cities, emergency shelters may have to turn away homeless families due to lack of resources; in 67 percent they may also have to turn away other homeless people.
    • People remain homeless an average of 10 months in the survey cities. Fifty-four percent of the cities said that the length of time people are homeless increased during the last year.
    • Lack of affordable housing lead the list of causes of homelessness identified by the city officials. Other causes cited, in order of frequency, include substance abuse and the lack of needed services, mental illness and the lack of needed services, low paying jobs, domestic violence, changes and cuts in public assistance, poverty and the lack of access to affordable health care
    • Officials estimate that, on average, single men comprise 45 percent of the homeless population, families with children 38 percent, single women 14 percent and unaccompanied minors three percent. Children account for one-fourth of the homeless population. The homeless population is estimated to be 49 percent African-American, 32 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, four percent Native American and three percent Asian. An average of 24 percent of homeless people in the cities are considered mentally ill; 38 percent are substance abusers; eight percent have AIDS or HIV-related illness. Twenty-two percent are employed; 22 percent are veterans.
    • During the last year the number of emergency shelter beds remained approximately the same in the survey cities. Transitional housing units increased by an average of 11 percent. Single Room Occupancy units increased by seven percent.
    • In 53 percent of the cities, families may have to break up in order to be sheltered. In 50 percent of the cities families may have to spend their daytime hours outside of the shelter they use at night.
    • Officials in the survey cities report that the Federal Government=s Continuum of Care policy has made a difference in their community=s effort to address homelessness, and that the increase in HUD funding to address homelessness has resulted in more homeless families and individuals accessing transitional and permanent housing and reaching self-sufficiency in their cities.
    • Ninety percent of the survey cities used city government funds during the last year to support shelters or other services for homeless people. Thirty percent used Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act funds; 23 percent used locally generated revenues; 19 percent used Community Development Block Grant funds; 15 percent used state grants; and 12 percent used Community Services Block Grant funds and other sources of federal funds.

    HOUSING

    • Requests for assisted housing by low income families and individuals increased in 74 percent of the cities during the last year. Twenty-seven percent of eligible low income households are currently served by assisted housing programs. City officials estimate that low income households spend an average of 47 percent of their income on housing.
    • Applicants must wait an average of 24 months for public housing in the survey cities. The wait for Section 8 Certificates is 33 months, for Section 8 Vouchers, 34 months. Seventy-six percent of the cities have stopped accepting applications for at least one assisted housing program due to the excessive length of the waiting list.
    • Many of the city officials say that the elimination of Section 8 incremental certificates will mean a longer wait for assisted housing, more overcrowding and increased homelessness.

    THE OUTLOOK

    • Officials in 96 percent of the responding cities expect requests for emergency food assistance to increase during 1999. Ninety-six percent expect that requests for emergency food assistance by families with children will increase during 1999. Officials in 93 percent of the cities expect that requests for emergency shelter will increase next year. Eighty-eight percent expect that requests by homeless families will increase.
    • The city officials report that the strong economy has had very little positive impact on hunger and homelessness. In many cities, conditions are likely to decline further next year. Low paying jobs that cannot support a household continues to be a very troublesome problem. Many cities report that welfare reform has had a negative impact on hunger and homelessness. Moreover, several cities expect a downturn in the economy which will further increase the number of homeless and requests for food.

    The entire report is online as of January 5, 1999. To have a hard copy mailed to you, please contact Doreen Hardie at 202.293.7330.