December 18, 2002

Hunger, Homelessness On the Rise in Major U.S. Cities
Mayors' 25-City Survey Finds High Housing Costs, Weak Economy Increase Need

Washington, DC -- As housing costs continued to rise faster than incomes and the national economy remained weak, requests for emergency food assistance increased an average of 19 percent over the past year, according to a 25-city survey released today by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The survey also found that requests for emergency shelter assistance grew an average of 19 percent in the 18 cities that reported an increase, the steepest rise in a decade.

Access the 2002 Report
  • Download for Free
  • Purchase a Hard Copy Online!
  • Mayors Call to Action
  • Other Sources of Information
  • "The world's richest and most powerful nation must find a way to meet the basic needs of all its residents," said Boston Mayor and Conference President Thomas Menino. "To address hunger and homelessness we must all work together to confront our national affordable housing crisis and turn around our sluggish economy."

    Participating cities were most likely to attribute hunger in their communities to high housing costs (16 cities), low-paying jobs (15 cities), unemployment (13 cities), and the economic downturn (11 cities).

    As need increased, the level of resources available to help meet that need at emergency food assistance facilities decreased in 52 percent of the cities, increased in 35 percent, and remained the same in 13 percent. Just over half the cities surveyed said they are not able to provide an adequate quantity of food to those in need. And nearly two-thirds of the cities reported they had to decrease the quantity of food provided and/or the number of times people can come to get food assistance. An average of 16 percent of the demand for emergency food assistance is estimated to have gone unmet in the survey cities.

    The survey finds that 48 percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families with children and that 38 percent of adults requesting such assistance were employed.

    "These are not simply statistics," said Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, who chairs the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. "These are real people who are hungry and homeless in our cities."

    Participating cities were most likely to attribute homelessness to a lack of affordable housing (21 cities), mental illness and the lack of needed services (20 cities), substance abuse and the lack of needed services (19 cities), and low-paying jobs (17 cities). The survey documents significant unmet need for shelter in cities across the nation.

    People remained homeless for an average of six months in the survey cities, a figure that increased from one year ago in all but four cities. Single men comprised 41 percent of the homeless population, families with children 41 percent, single women 13 percent, and unaccompanied youth five percent. Seventy-three percent of homeless families in the survey cities are headed by single parents. It is estimated that substance abusers account for 32 percent of the homeless population in the survey cities and persons considered mentally ill account for 23 percent. Twenty-two percent of the homeless in survey cities are employed. Ten percent are veterans.

    All the cities in the survey expect that requests for both emergency food assistance and shelter assistance will increase again over the next year.

    "In the past several years, the face of homelessness has changed here in the District of Columbia and in cities across America," said Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams. "It's going to take a coordinated effort on many fronts to combat this problem. This effort must include additional federal resources for housing, job training, substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling. By shedding light on the problem as we are doing with this report, we can work together to help homeless individuals transition into fuller lives."

    The mayors also announced a "call to action" to the Administration, Congress, state and local governments, the private and non-profit sectors, and all Americans to do their part to address growing hunger and homelessness in our nation. Specifically, the mayors -

    • Called on Congress to immediately consider and build upon President Bush's request for aid to the homeless, as part of a comprehensive effort to end homelessness within ten years;
    • Called on Congress and the Administration to enact a national housing agenda, based on the recommendations mayors submitted earlier this year, which would put tens of thousands of Americans to work;
    • Called on Congress to streamline federal anti-hunger programs and provide additional outreach resources; and
    • Urged all Americans to donate their time, money, and excess food to help combat hunger and homelessness.

    "The report confirms what America's Second Harvest has struggled with over the past year," said Robert H. Forney, President and CEO, America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization, who joined the mayors today. "To meet the growing demand for food assistance, we'll need a commitment from every American who can afford to help, our elected leaders, the business community, as well as our network of hunger-relief agencies."

    The mayors released the report at DC Central Kitchen, which converts donated food into meals for the hungry while providing food preparation job training to unemployed individuals. Several mayors in other cities held their own events today to mark the release of the report and draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness.

    The mayors of the 25 cities included in the survey are members of the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. They are Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Louisville Mayor David Armstrong, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, Philadelphia Mayor John Street, Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, Portland Mayor Vera Katz, Providence Mayor John Lombardi, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

    The complete survey can be downloaded for free or a hard copy can be ordered for $20 at

    The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,139 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor. The primary roles of the Conference of Mayors are to promote the development of effective national urban/suburban policy; strengthen federal-city relationships; ensure that federal policy meets urban needs; provide mayors with leadership and management tools; and create a forum in which mayors can share ideas and information. More information about the Conference is available at

    USCM: Rhonda Spears, (202) 861-6766


    ©2004 U.S. Conference of Mayors