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Posted on 01/05/2004 7:01:41 AM PST by Joseph Stix
Despite recent reports of an improved economy, hunger and homelessness are on the rise, according to a study of 25 major cities by the U. S. Conference of Mayors.
This survey underscores the impact the economy has had on everyday Americans, says conference president, Mayor James E. Garner of Hempstead, N.Y. The face of homelessness has changed and now reflects who we least suspect.
For example, 61 percent of people requesting emergency food assistance in the cities surveyed held jobs.
The annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released in late December, reports that requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 17 percent over the previous year, and requests for emergency shelter assistance increased by an average of 13 percent.
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, says Richard Macedonia, chief operating officer for Sodexho U.S.A., a leading provider of food and facilities management in the United States. In nearly every major U. S. city, the problem of hunger and homelessness is steadily growing.
The survey was released only days before the U. S. Department of Commerce released its third and final estimate of the nations economic performance for the third quarter of 2003. The agency estimated that the gross domestic product (output of goods and services) grew by 8.2 percent in the three-month period that ended Sept. 30, more than doubling the growth rate of the previous three months. The unemployment rate also held steady in November at 5.9 percent with a 1.3 percent drop in the Black rate from 11.5 to 10.2 percent.
Yet, there was little to cheer for during the holiday season.
Among the most glaring trends was an 11 percent leap in families with children requesting food, from 48 percent in 2002 to 59 percent in 2003; a record 56 percent of cities having to turn people away without help from food assistance programs, up 24 percent over the previous year and the highest percentage since six years ago when 71 percent was recorded; and a record 84 percent of cities having to turn away people from homeless shelters because of lack of space, up 38 percent over 2002 and the largest percentage in seven years.
The conference is the official organization of U.S. cities with populations of 30,000; there are 1,139 cities in that category.
The 25 cities that participated in the survey were Boston; Burlington, Vt.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Denver; Detroit; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Louisville Metro, Ky.; Nashville; New Orleans; Norfolk, Va.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Portland; Providence, R.I.; Salt Lake City; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco; Santa Monica, Calif.; Seattle; Trenton, N.J.; and Washington, D.C.
The data was collected from the cities between Nov. 1, 2002 to Oct. 31, 2003. Among other findings:
· Twenty cities reported that unemployment and unemployment-related problems were the leading causes of hunger. Overriding causes of hunger in 13 cities were attributed to low-paying jobs and in 11 cities, rising housing costs;
· More than half of the cities 56 percent reported that people in need were turned away with no help because of lack of food and resources. More than 14 percent of the requests for emergency food assistance are estimated to have gone unmet over the past year;
· Fifty-nine percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families with children;
· Twenty-three cities said the lack of affordable housing contributed to homelessness. Other major causes included low-paying jobs, lack of needed services, mental illness or substance abuse problems;
· Eighty-four percent of the cities reported that emergency shelters have turned away homeless families because of a lack of resources. More than 14 percent of the requests for emergency food assistance are estimated to have gone unmet. Fifteen percent of the requests from families were not met and
· People remained homeless for an average of five months in the survey cities with 60 percent of the cities reporting that the length of homelessness time increased over the past year. Single men made up 41 percent of the homeless population, families with children made up 40 percent, single women, 14 percent and independent youth, 5 percent.
Robert Forney, president and CEO of Americas Second Harvest, the nation's largest hunger-relief organization, says carrying the load has not been easy.
We are hopeful that this will spur the president and Congress to renew and strengthen our national fight against child hunger in America, Forney says.
The mayors conference say that even with an improving economy more than 80 percent of the cities expect that requests for emergency food, assistance and shelter will increase in 2004.
These are not simply statistics, says Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, who co-chairs the Conferences Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. These are real people who are hungry and homeless in our cities.
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Hazel Trice Edney is the NNPA Washington Correspondent. She has covered Capitol Hill and national electoral politics since Sept. 2000 and is now an investigative reporter in NNPA's NorthStar Investigative Reporting Program. Edney was a 1999-2000 congressional fellow, sponsored by the American Political Science Association. In the nine-month fellowship for journalists, she served in the personal office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Edney has a Masters Degree from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she was awarded the William S. Wasserman Jr. Fellowship on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. She is a 15-year veteran of the Black Press, having reported for the Richmond Afro-American and the Richmond Free Press before she was awarded the Harvard fellowship in 1998. In 1991, she was the first place winner in the feature story category of the NNPA Merit Awards.
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