The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Homelessness Rose Drastically in 2004, Services Lacking, Report Says

by Jessica Azulay

Without offering any solutions or accepting accountability of their own, an organization of the nation’s big city mayors released its annual report showing poverty and homelessness continue to rise.

Dec. 15, 2004 – A national mayors’ organization released its annual report on hunger and homelessness yesterday, documenting a staggering 14 percent increase this year in the number of requests for emergency food assistance and a 6 percent rise in requests for emergency shelter. The survey, which included information from 27 US cities, also found that families with children asked for help at a substantially higher rate this year and that a large portion of those who needed help did not receive it.

"These are not simply statistics," said Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell in a press statement on behalf of the US Conference of Mayors, which compiled the report. "These are real people -- many are families with children -- who are hungry and homeless in our cities."

The mayors blamed economic problems, including high unemployment and low-paying jobs, as major factors in the increase. They also pointed to the lack of affordable housing and a shortage of available services such as health care, childcare, drug treatment programs and assistance for survivors of domestic violence, the mentally ill and people released from prison.

According to the report, entitled "US Conference of Mayors-Sodexho USA Hunger and Homelessness Survey," the number of requests for emergency food made by families with children rose by an average of 13 percent this year, and 17 percent of those requests went unmet. The survey also documented that families made up just over half of those asking for assistance and that about one third of the adults requesting help were employed.

The group’s rhetorical conclusions resembled those made in previous years, but neither the report nor official statements made significant mention of tangible programs or objectives intended to address a reversal of the alarming trends.

Yet the statistics in the report may represent only a portion of the nation’s homeless population. Homeless people’s advocates have long pointed out that most surveys use data collected from social service providers and government agencies. Those who do not ask for services - including parents who fear the state will take their children away -- are rarely represented in national statistics.

"These survey results indicate, as they have in the past 19 years that we have done this survey, that there is still a great deal to be done to address the serious issue of homelessness in America," said Cedar Rapids Mayor Paul Pate and co-chair of the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, in the group’s press statement.

"It is important that we all take seriously the challenge of eliminating chronic homelessness over the next 10 years," said Pate.

The group’s rhetorical conclusions resembled those made in previous years, but neither the report nor official statements made significant mention of tangible programs or objectives intended to address a reversal of the alarming trends.

The survey also found that in all of the cities surveyed, people were relying on emergency food agencies over long periods of time.

The number of families asking for housing assistance jumped by 7 percent this year, and the mayors report that almost a third of those requesting emergency shelter were turned away, compared to 23 percent overall.

The cities reported that people were remaining homeless for an average of 8 months, and that there was an average wait of 20 months for public housing. People had to wait an average of 35 months for Section 8 rent assistance. Additionally, over half of the cities said they had to stop accepting applications for at least one housing program because of lengthy waiting lists.

According to the report, 41 percent of the homeless population is comprised of single men, families with children represent 40 percent, single women make up 14 percent and 5 percent are unaccompanied youth.

While homelessness and hunger are often considered never-ending problems without permanent solutions, advocates and service providers disagree. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has put together an aggressive plan called "A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in 10 Years."

Though the agenda is bold, the ideas put forth by the group are hardly radical. They include raising wages, increasing the amount of affordable housing, and offering plenty of services like welfare, health care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and veterans assistance to people who need them.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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