December 18, 2003

U.S. Conference of Mayors - Sodexho Hunger and Homelessness Survey 2003
Hunger, Homelessness Still On the Rise in Major U.S. Cities; 25-City Survey Finds Unemployment, Lack of Affordable Housing Account for Increased Needs

Washington, DC -- Hunger and homelessness continued to rise in major American cities over the last year, according to the new U.S. Conference of Mayors-Sodexho Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released today at the Conference of Mayors Headquarters. As the overall economy remained weak, requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 17 percent over the past year, and requests for emergency shelter assistance increased by an average of 13 percent in the 25 cities surveyed.

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"This survey underscores the impact the economy has had on everyday Americans," said Conference of Mayors President and Hempstead (NY) Mayor James A. Garner. "The face of homelessness has changed and now reflects who we least suspect. During this holiday season, I urge all Americans to recognize their obligation to help their neighbors in need."

Sodexho USA Chief Operating Officer Richard Macedonia, said "At a time of year when most of us are looking forward to the joys of the holiday season, it is disheartening and disturbing to learn that so many of our fellow Americans are in desperate need of shelter, food, clothing and the other basic necessities of life-and that in nearly every major US city, the problem of hunger and homelessness is steadily growing."


Twenty participating cities reported that unemployment and various employment-related problems were the leading causes of hunger. Other causes most likely contributing to hunger include low-paying jobs (13 cities), and high housing costs (11 cities).

As need increased, 56 percent of the cities surveyed reported that people in need were turned away due to lack of resources. Over14 percent of the requests for emergency food assistance are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year. For families, 15 percent of the requests for assistance have gone unmet. Just over half the cities surveyed indicated that emergency 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, 48 percent have had to significantly limit food provided.

The survey finds that 59 percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families with children and their parents, and that 39 percent of the adults requesting such assistance were employed.

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


Twenty-three participating cities reported that lack of affordable housing was the leading cause of homelessness. Other causes most likely attributed to homelessness include mental illness or lack of needed services (18 cities), low-paying jobs (17 cities), and substance abuse and the lack of needed services (17 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 the cities surveyed. Eighty-four percent of the cities reported that emergency shelters have turned away homeless families due to lack of resources. Over14 percent of the requests for emergency food assistance are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year. For families, 15 percent of the requests for assistance were not met.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Paul Pate and co-chair of the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, said "These survey results indicate, as they have in past years, that there is still a great deal to be done to address the serious issue of homelessness in America."

People remained homeless for an average of five months in the survey cities. Sixty percent of the cities said that the length of time people are homeless increased during the last year. Single men comprised 41 percent of the homeless population, families with children 40 percent, single women 14 percent, and unaccompanied youth five percent.

It is estimated that substance abusers account for 30 percent of the homeless population in the survey cities and persons considered mentally ill account for 23 percent. Seventeen percent of the homeless in survey cities are employed and 10 percent are veterans.


Eighty-seven percent of the cities surveyed expect that requests for both emergency food assistance will increase again over the next year. Ninety-one percent expect that requests for emergency food assistance by families with children will increase next year. Eighty-eight percent expect that requests for emergency shelter will increase next year, and 80% expect requests for shelter by homeless families will increase in 2004. Even with an improving economy, city officials believe that economic conditions will continue to have a negative impact on the problem of hunger and homelessness.

"The data released today is consistent with the increased demand for emergency food assistance we've seen throughout our national network of hunger-relief agencies," said Robert Forney, President and CEO of America's Second Harvest. "We are hopeful that this will spur the President and Congress to renew and strengthen our national fight against child hunger in America."

The mayors of the 25 cities included in the survey are members of the Conference of Mayors Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. They are Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, Philadelphia Mayor John Street, Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, Portland Mayor Vera Katz, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, and Washington Mayor Anthony Williams.

The complete survey can be downloaded 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

Sodexho USA ( is the leading provider of food and facilities management in the United States. Sodexho USA offers innovative outsourcing solutions in food service, housekeeping, grounds keeping, plant operations and maintenance, asset management, and laundry services to more than 6,000 corporations, health care, long term care and retirement centers, schools, college campuses, military and remote sites in North America.

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