Press Release

Mayors' 16th Annual Survey on "Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities" Finds Increased Levels of Hunger, Increased Capacity to Meet Demand
Affordable Housing Cited as Primary Factor
in Largest Emergency Shelter Demand in a Decade

December 14, 2000
Jubi Headley, USCM
(202) 861-6766 office
(202) 744-9337 cell
 Eugene Lowe, USCM
(202) 861-6710
Washington, DC -- This morning, Conference President and Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles held a press conference at the Conference headquarters in Washington to announce findings from the 16th annual "Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities."

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"As we enter the holiday season, it's not only appropriate but our obligation to take a long, hard look at those who have been left behind in this time of unprecedented abundance," Mayor Coles said. "This report is a reminder to all Americans that as long as one of us goes without food or shelter, we all have more work to do."

The survey, conducted in 25 cities, examined the causes of hunger and homelessness, the demographic groups that make up this population, demand for emergency food and housing-related assistance, model programs that respond to these problems, and the projected impact of the economy on hunger and homelessness in America.

Among the key findings of the report:


  • Officials in the survey cities estimate that during the past year requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 17 percent, with 83 percent of the cities registering an increase. This 17% increase in demand for emergency food is the second highest rate of increase since 1992. (Last year's rate of 18% equaled the 1992 rate.)
  • Requests for food assistance by families with children increased by an average of 16 percent-the highest rate of increase since 1991. Requests for emergency food assistance by elderly persons increased by an average of nine percent during the last year, with 75 percent of the cities reporting an increase.
  • Sixty-two percent of the people requesting emergency food assistance were members of families -- children and their parents. Thirty-two percent of the adults requesting food assistance were employed.
  • In 100 percent of the cities, families and individuals relied upon emergency food assistance both in emergencies and as a steady source of food over long periods of time.

According to the survey cities, the leading causes of this food problem, cited in order of frequency, are low-paying jobs, high housing costs, unemployment and other employment-related problems, poverty or lack of income, substance abuse, food stamp cuts, utility costs, the costs and unavailability of transportation and welfare reform.

There was some good news to report from the survey, which found that just 13 percent of the requests for food are estimated to have gone unmet. This is the lowest rate of unmet food demand found by the survey in a decade. Similarly, less than half-46 percent-of the cities say that they may have to turn away people in need because of a lack of resources-again, the lowest rate in a decade. While the Mayors credited these decreases in part to the outstanding outreach efforts of the Department of Agriculture to enroll individuals and families in food programs, they cautioned against interpreting one year results as indicative of a trend, and urged even greater diligence in the fight against hunger.


  • The average demand for emergency shelter increased by 15 percent-the highest one-year increase of the decade. Seventy-six percent of the cities-the highest increase since 1994-reported that demand had increased. Requests for shelter by homeless families alone increased by 17 percent, with 72 percent of the cities reporting an increase.
  • The average demand for emergency shelter that went unmet in 2000 was 23 percent. Survey results have found this number to be consistently high; for most of the 16 years in which the survey has been conducted, it has been reported at 20 percent or more.
  • On average, people remain homeless for five months in the cities surveyed. Fifty percent of the cities said that the length of time people are homeless had increased during the last year.
  • Officials estimate that, on average, single men comprise 44 percent of the homeless population, families with children 36 percent, single women 13 percent and unaccompanied minors seven percent. The homeless population is estimated to be 50 percent African-American, 35 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native American and one percent Asian. An average of 22 percent of homeless people in the cities are considered mentally ill; 37 percent are substance abusers; 26 percent are employed; and 15 percent are veterans.

Several causes of homelessness reported by the cities are cited in the report, including the lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, poverty, low paying jobs and changes in public assistance.

New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial
Vice President, The United states Conference of Mayors
…on the need for a coordinated national response to homelessness

"In New Orleans, we've experienced a 25% increase in the number of requests for emergency shelter by families with children. And in some cities the increase is even greater. We've got to reverse this disturbing trend. Leaders at all levels-federal and state, as well as local-have got to do a better job of making affordable housing a reality for all of America's working families. In these times of relative prosperity, every family in America having a roof over their heads shouldn't be optional."

Boston Mayor Tom Menino
Chair of the Conference of Mayors Advisory Board
…on the affordable housing crisis

"Boston is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. A national HUD study reported hat Massachusetts had the highest increase in home costs, 45%, over the past five years. The lack of affordable housing in Massachusetts is felt most acutely in Boston, and that sad fact is reflected in the numbers of our recently completed annual census of the homeless. I just made a $30 million commitment in city funds to increase the supply of affordable housing, but still our homeless shelters and feeding programs are overflowing. We need a serious commitment of new affordable housing resources from the federal government. Never before have we seen so many homeless on our streets in this nation."

Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton
Trustee, the United States Conference of Mayors
…on HUD's Continuum of Care Program

"HUD's Continuum of Care program has made a significant difference in our efforts to address homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County. In 1999, we were awarded $5.8 million in funds for transitional, permanent and supportive housing with services. I want to thank Secretary Cuomo for his leadership in the fight to address the affordable housing and homelessness crises here and across the country."

However, nearly every city in the survey cited the lack of affordable housing as the primary cause of homelessness. "I believe homelessness is actually not the problem, but it is a symptom of an affordable housing crisis," said Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, Chair of the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. "Despite being in a period of unprecedented economic expansion, low-income wage workers and their families are finding it increasingly difficult to locate decent, affordable housing; increasingly, they find themselves among a growing population of homeless. Yet, the affordable housing crisis received little attention from the Presidential candidates or the U.S. Congress…Mayors understand that federal action alone will not solve the problem. But a heightening of the federal commitment to affordable housing is a critical ingredient in the solution."

Officials in 71 percent of the responding cities expect requests for emergency food assistance to increase during 2001, and 72 percent of the cities expect that requests for emergency shelter will increase next year. A full seventy-nine percent expect that requests by homeless families will increase.

City officials continue to have mixed views with respect to the effect that the current strong economy is having on problems of both hunger and homelessness. According to some, the strength of America's economy has had little or no impact on hunger and homelessness in their cities; others believe, however, that the strong economy will lead to improved conditions. Still others say that the strong economy has made things worse, especially with respect to increased housing costs which leads to a lack of affordable housing.

The 25 cities that responded to the Year 2000 survey comprise the membership of the Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, and include: Boston (MA), Burlington (VT), Charleston (SC), Charlotte (NC), Chicago (IL), Denver (CO), Detroit (MI), Louisville (KY), 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), San Diego (CA), Salt Lake City (UT), San Antonio (TX), Seattle (WA), Trenton (NJ).

Other Conference leaders and federal officials are expected to join Mayor Coles and Mayor Clavelle in announcing the release. Year 2000 survey results will be posted online on December 14th at the Conference's website,

The United States 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.