Homelessness and Hunger on the Rise

The U.S. Conference of Mayors released on Friday the results of its 2008 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, which surveys 25 major cities. The report adds to this year’s grim economic news, finding that hunger and homelessness have grown significantly in a number of cities over the last year, especially among working families with children.

The report indicates that the average demand for food assistance increased 18 percent from 2007 to 2008 and affected almost all of the cities surveyed. The cities also reported an increase in the number of working parents requesting food assistance for the first time, including more two-parent households. At the same time, cities are facing decreasing or flat resources at food pantries and emergency kitchens, prompting them to scale back the level of assistance to people in need.

Homelessness was also on the rise, and cities reported an average increase of 12 percent in homelessness from 2007 to 2008. More than half of surveyed cities indicate that significant increases occurred among families with children.

This year’s report also included a focus on the effect of the foreclosure crisis on homelessness. More than half—63 percent—of the cities reported an increase in homelessness attributable to the foreclosure crisis, though they did not have enough data to quantify the extent of that increase. The tenants of rental units owned by landlords facing foreclosure were reported as the most vulnerable to becoming homeless.

Economic stimulus and recovery spending could go a long way toward rectifying these troubling conditions. The Center for American Progress’ policy proposals include a temporary increase in food stamp benefits and more funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. CAP also calls for greater investment in affordable rental opportunities in the context of addressing the housing crisis.

The funding level of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants must also be increased to fully address growing homelessness across the nation. This will help communities expand efforts to prevent and end homelessness and provide resources for housing over the short and long term.

For more on CAP’s stimulus and recovery proposals, see: