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The number of people hungry and homeless in US cities rose dramatically again in 2007, according to the annual report on hunger and homelessness from the US Conference of Mayors. The 23-city Hunger and Homelessness Survey was released in late December.
Requests for emergency food increased in four of every five cities. Among 15 cities with quantifying data, the median increase in requests for food was 10 percent and in some cities it was much higher. Detroit and some other cities reported seeing more working poor among those seeking food.
In Detroit, emergency food requests shot up 35 percent over the 12-month period ending in October. Officials there noted that “due to a lack of resources, emergency food assistance facilities have had to reduce the number of days and/or hours of operation.”
Thirteen of 19 survey cities reported they could not meet the demand for emergency food. Los Angeles was one of the major cities reporting difficulties in serving the growing need.
An official in LA said: “Emergency food assistance facilities have to turn away people. According to the LA Regional Foodbank, over 30 percent of their food pantries have had to turn clients away and pantries that don’t turn clients away are providing less food.
“In 2002, a food pantry would provide an average of eight to ten different USDA commodities per distribution. This holiday season, food pantries are providing three USDA commodities. Food pantries are tasked to serve more clients with the same amount of resources they had six years ago. Twenty-one percent of overall demand for emergency food assistance goes unmet.”
Across all cities, an average of 15 percent of families with children looking for emergency food must be turned away. Nine in 10 of the cities sampled for details on the urban hunger crisis say they expect increases in food requests next year.
City officials said specific factors exacerbating hunger over the past year were the foreclosure crisis, the high prices of food and gasoline, and the lack of affordable housing. Decreased social benefits such as public assistance and the eroding value of food stamps were also listed as particularly acute problems. Lack of donated food and commodities and insufficient funding were listed as the most important reason for turning away the hungry.
Economic issues such as unemployment and poverty along with high housing and medical costs were most cited by responding cities as the major causes of chronic hunger. Substance abuse and mental illness were the least cited.