The economic downturn has exacerbated a growing, two-pronged problem in U.S. cities: hunger and homelessness.
According to a report recently released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, increasing demand and decreasing resources are posing the biggest challenge in addressing hunger.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Survey was based on the responses from 29 cities whose mayors are members of the Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness.
All but four of the 29 cities in the survey reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance by an average of 15 percent. “And among those requesting food assistance, cities noted that even those with jobs are going hungry – 50 percent of those requesting assistance were families, 26 percent were employed, 19 percent were elderly, and 11 percent were homeless.”
Among the 29 cities in the survey, 86 percent reported that they had to reduce the quantity of food that people could receive at food pantries and emergency kitchens. Boston reported the highest rate of unmet demand, at 40 percent, followed closely by Phoenix, with a 39 percent unmet need.
Cities are developing innovative ways to feed the hungry and provide housing for those in need.
While the findings were rather bleak (albeit unsurprising), there is a bright spot: Cities are developing innovative ways to feed the hungry and provide housing for those in need. In fact, 24 of the 29 cities surveyed have implemented initiatives that have proven effective in reducing hunger.
Boston’s school-based food pantries are expected to increase overall distribution by 10 percent over the next two years. Organized around all-school events, where students attend with a parent or guardian, these pantries have been positively received within their communities.
In Philadelphia, the SHARE Food Program has partnered with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society to stock food cupboards with locally grown produce. In return for being able to buy this produce at a reduced rate (30 percent lower than grocery stores), participants are required to donate their time to a community service project.
The Backpack Program in Salt Lake City seeks to provide nutritious and easy-to-prepare meals – in backpacks – for children on weekends, school vacations, and other occasions when school-provided meals are unavailable.
Indeed, times are tough. The U.S. Conference of Mayors notes that city officials responded to this year’s survey when the poverty level has reached its highest point in the 52 years that poverty levels have been reported.