Deseret Morning News, December 18, 2007: Hunger woes ‘persistent’

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By James Thalman
Deseret Morning News

Published: December 18, 2007

Their local economies may ebb and flow, and city policies come and go, but one constant remains for mayors nationwide the rising need for emergency food and low-income housing.

“Persistent” is how a special task force describes hunger and homelessness in an annual report released Monday by the The U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The group of nearly 1,139 mayors nationwide ought to know; it has been tracking the course and scale of key services to low-income populations in their cities for 21 years. Progress in dealing with hunger and homelessness is consistent among the cities, according to the report. But increasing need consistently taps out emergency food banks and shelter services, the report states.

Front-line data gathered from service providers in Salt Lake City and 22 other cities across the country show requests for food assistance over the past year increased by about 15 percent, and 19 cities expect demand to increase by that much again in the coming year.

Every city but Salt Lake reports that food pantries had to turn away or limit the number of food requests they filled. Salt Lake’s food banks do not turn anyone away, but the increase in requests particularly the notable rise in the number of families with children requesting food “have stretched resources more than usual during the past year.”

Resources were also stretched by donors, whose generosity often oversupplied the need the past year. Food programs in the Salt Lake area have actually found themselves at times overwhelmed by food donations but short on storage space. Donations were turned down or were rerouted to other pantries.

Highlighted in the report is the 17-site Kid’s Cafe, the Utah Food Bank’s meal program that offers weeknight dinners to low-income youths who qualify for free or reduced-priced school lunches and breakfasts. It provided 101,393 meals to low-income children last year, according to the mayors’ report.

The rising use of food programs nationally, what a mayors’ conference spokesman called “the hunger crisis,” are the results of more people finding themselves underemployed or in job transition, higher utility, transportation and housing costs.

The recent spike in home foreclosures is playing a part, along with overall increases in the cost of living and the continuing rise in the price of food in general, the report states. Sixteen cities report they are not meeting requests for emergency food assistance 17 percent of all people in need and 15 percent of households with children are not receiving it, according to the report.

“Salt Lake and other cities are taking creative and significant steps forward, but the need for emergency food assistance programs requires even more,” said Conference President and Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas Palmer. “Although 87 percent of our nation’s wealth is generated in our nation’s cities, hunger and homelessness persists in most of our country’s cities and urban centers.” The report cites high housing costs and the lack of affordable housing as a major cause of homelessness in households with children as well as a major cause of hunger. The survey also notes the recent spike in foreclosures, the increased cost of living in general and the increased cost of food in particular as major causes of hunger in America.

“This report underscores the fact that issues of poverty in this country are often interrelated,” said Mayor Frank Cownie, co-chairman of the Conference’s Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. “It is instructive in that we must deal with these issues collectively to make sustainable impact.”

Despite Salt Lake and Utah public and private joint efforts to increase the number of low-income housing units, such as the 184 new beds at two new projects in Salt Lake this year, the number of homeless individuals and unaccompanied youths increased by 3,443. However, the number families with children who are homeless, the number of homeless veterans and the number of clients reporting they are victims of domestic violence actually decreased. The report also found:

• Food Stamp benefits are not keeping up with the increasing price of food.

• The most commonly cited way to reduce hunger is through more affordable housing.

• Disability is more prevalent among homeless singles than among adults in households with children. Rates of disability (mental illness, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, physical and developmental disabilities) were approximately three times greater for singles than for adults in households with children.

• The average length of stay in 2007 for persons in emergency shelter and transitional housing decreased from 2006. Cities reported that for households with children, the average length of a stay was 5.7 months in 2007. For singles, the average length of a

single stay was reported as 4.7 months. In 2006, cities reported that an average length of stay was eight months for both groups.

The survey time frame was Nov. 1, 2006, to Oct. 31, 2007, and was underwritten by Sodexho Inc., a leading integrated food and facilities management services company in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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 represented in the conference by its chief elected official.


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