Across the nation, homelessness and hunger are increasing as Congress looks to cut programs for the needy in budget negotiations.
That's the "decidedly pessimistic" conclusion of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 31st Annual Assessment of Hunger and Homelessness released Wednesday.
Cities are bracing for greater demands but foresee funding cuts for programs that aid people seeking food and shelter, according to Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, co-chairman of the organization's Hunger and Homeless Task Force.
"Nearly three-fourths of the cities expect that resources to provide emergency food assistance will decrease over the next year," Wharton said Wednesday. "[And] in 62 percent of the cities, resources to provide emergency shelter are expected to decrease over the next year."
An average of 22 percent of homeless people needing assistance received none during the past year, according to the survey of 25 major U.S. cities, which included Salt Lake City. The report also revealed that in 71 percent of the cities surveyed, emergency shelters turned away homeless families with children.
Officials in 55 percent of the cities surveyed expect homelessness to increase in the coming year.
Salt Lake City was an exception among the major metropolitan areas in that officials said homelessness was down 14 percent. Nevertheless, demand for food and shelter space was up.
The sluggish economy and joblessness are exacerbating the problem, said Santa Barbara (Calif.) Mayor Helene Schneider, who also helps lead the task force. "There's no question that the nation's economy is on the mend," she said. "But there's also no question that the slow pace of recovery is making it difficult and, for many, impossible to respond to the growing needs of the hungry and homeless."
The bright spot in the report is that homelessness was down sharply for veterans. Federal funds targeting veteran homelessness were obtained by 23 of the cities surveyed. Veterans Affairs has set a goal of eliminating veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
Salt Lake City, along with 20 others surveyed, reported increased requests for emergency food assistance during the past 12 months. Emergency requests were up 7 percent overall. The survey also indicated that one in five people seeking food assistance did not get it.
According to the report, 58 percent of those requesting emergency food belonged to families. And in all the cities surveyed, emergency kitchens and food pantries had to reduce the quantity of food people could receive. The report also revealed that in two-thirds of the cities, pantries turned people away for lack of food.
The federal budget now being debated in Congress could make things more difficult if programs are cut further, Schneider warned.
"One thing is certain today," she said. "Until our economy improves for all Americans, programs to combat poverty, hunger and homelessness need to be protected, not sacrificed by this Congress."
The full report can be found at http://www.usmayors.org.