Press Release

December 16, 1999

Tony Iallonardo

(202) 861-6772

Survey Shows Demand for Emergency Food and Shelter on the Rise in America's Cities

WASHINGTON, DC -- A survey of 26 cities released today by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (and available at shows hunger and homelessness grows unabated, despite an expanding national economy. Among two key finding of the "1999 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities", demand for emergency food related assistance during 1999 grew at the highest level since 1992, and demand for emergency housing related assistance grew at the highest level since 1994.

Click on the image above for a copy of the survey.
In addition to demand for services, this 15th annual survey examines the causes of hunger and homelessness, the demographic groups that make up this population, and model programs that respond to these problems.

In releasing the report, Burlington Mayor and Conference Task Force Chair on Hunger and Homelessness Peter Clavelle remarked, "Unfortunately, our nation's unprecedented prosperity is not reaching a lot of our own citizens. Usually, task forces for the Conference of Mayors are established to respond to immediate problems, and they exist for no more than three or four years. I'm sad to say that our Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness is now 15 years old, making it the oldest task force in the conference by far, and this year's results show we will be here next year as well."

The report shows that demand for emergency food assistance increased 18 percent over the previous year, the largest increase since 1992. In addition, 21 percent of requests for food are estimated to have gone unmet. Slightly more than half of the cities responding say that they may have to turn away people in need because they lack resources.

Appearing at the press conference from left to right are Akron Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic, Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle and HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Fred Karnas.
Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr. said, "While so many of us make an extra effort to feed the poor during the holiday season, we quickly forget that poor must eat year round. It is stunning that this study shows that so many people here in the United States are turned away and must go hungry."

At the press conference, Cianci also unveiled the USCM and Alan Shawn Feinstein Foundation "Petition to End Hunger in America". Named after Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein, this joint effort is offering $70,000 in a drive to obtain signatures to a petition calling on Congress to end hunger in America. Cities that obtain the most signatures by February 29, 2000 will receive donations to support their local hunger programs.

The report also shows that requests for emergency shelter increased 12 percent since the previous year, the largest increase since 1994. Sixty-nine percent of the cities surveyed reported that demand for housing had increased.

Among the causes for homelessness, lack of affordable housing leads the list, followed by substance abuse, low wages, domestic violence, mental illness, poverty, and changes to public assistance programs.

Upon seeing the survey, Denver Mayor and Conference President Wellington E. Webb said, "This report confirms the unfortunate and sadly ironic effect that prosperity has on the poor in cities. Our good economy has simply driven up housing costs and reduced the supply of affordable housing -- putting many people on the streets and into shelters. The challenge for mayors is to make sure a prospering economy helps everyone "

Other findings in the report show the homeless population has changed little in recent years, with single men comprising the largest group at 43 percent, and families with children comprising another 37 percent. Thirty-one percent of the homeless are reported to be substance abusers.

Also, most of the cities surveyed expect demand for emergency food and shelter to increase in the year ahead. Eighty-four percent of the cities responding said demand for food will increase, while 92 percent said they expect to see an increase in demand for shelter. No city said they expected to see a decrease in demand for food or shelter.

The 26 cities that responded to the survey comprise the membership of the Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, and include: Boston (MA), Burlington (VT), Charleston (SC), Charlotte (NC), Chicago (IL), Cleveland (OH), Denver (CO), Detroit (MI), Kansas City (MO), Los Angeles (CA), Miami (FL), Minneapolis (MN), Nashville (TN), New Orleans (LA), Norfolk (VA), Philadelphia (PA), Phoenix (AZ), Portland (OR), Providence (RI), Saint Louis (MO), Saint Paul (MN), Salt Lake City (UT), San Antonio (TX), San Francisco (CA), Seattle (WA) and Trenton (NJ).

The U. S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are about 1,100 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.