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U.S. Has More Homeless, Hungry

Hunger and homelessness increased in many of America's largest cities this year, with growing demand for emergency food supplies for families with children, the elderly and even people with jobs, a survey by U.S. mayors finds.

The report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, released Thursday, found that requests for emergency food assistance rose 17 percent overall from last year in the survey of 25 large cities. Requests for emergency shelter assistance increased by 13 percent, the report showed.

Most of the cities expected that requests for emergency food assistance and shelter would rise again over the coming year, the study said.

Food needs for the poor grew in nearly nine out of 10 of the surveyed cities.

Denver suffered the greatest spike in demand for emergency food, with requests rising 48 percent this year. Food needs rose 40 percent in Louisville, Ky., 27 percent in Providence, R.I., and 25 percent in Charleston, S.C. Seattle reported a decrease in emergency food requests of 8 percent.

Unemployment, low paying jobs, high housing costs, substance abuse and high energy and utility costs are contributing to the hunger problem, the report said.

"This survey underscores the impact the economy has had on everyday Americans," said James A. Garner, Conference of Mayors president.

The study said as need increased, more than half of the cities had to turn hungry people away, with more than 14 percent of requests for emergency food assistance going unmet.

Requests for food assistance by families with children increased by 18 percent and requests by elderly persons increased by 13 percent during the past year. Overall, nearly three out of four cities reported an increase in food assistance requests.

"The report is full of bad news, but solutions are there," said Michael Lennon, chief executive officer of HomeAid America, a group that builds shelters for the homeless.

"The economy is on the rebound, they're doing well in the building industry, but as the economy is going up, prices go up, and housing costs go up," he said. "It's good for people who own homes, but hard on people who are renters."

Governments need to respond by providing more transitional housing so people have a roof over their heads while they build job skills and save up for rent, Lennon added.

The study also found:

  • Fifty-nine percent of the people requesting emergency food assistance were members of families.
  • Thirty-nine percent of the adults requesting emergency food assistance were employed.
  • Requests for shelter by homeless families alone increased by 15 percent.
  • People remain homeless an average of five months - longer than before, in most cities.
  • Single men comprise 41 percent of the homeless population, families with children 40 percent, single women 14 percent and unaccompanied youth 5 percent.

    The U.S. Conference of Mayors surveyed 25 major cities whose mayors were members of its task force on hunger and homelessness.

    By Siobhan McDonough

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