Just days before threatened cuts to social programs could go into effect, The United States Conference of Mayors on Thursday released a report that says more spending is needed to help the increasing number of hungry and homeless people in the nation.
The Hunger and Homelessness Survey an annual status report on 25 cities, including Salt Lake City, based on information about services provided from Sept. 1, 2011, through Aug. 31, 2012 says resources are decreasing as unemployment, poverty and the lack of affordable housing hurt more families.
In a telephone news conference from Washington, D.C., conference leaders said that the report reflects the lingering effects of the Great Recession and pending fiscal cliff and sequestration cuts could have a long term impact.
"Dealing with growing needs in the face of dwindling resources is nothing new for mayors, but we are especially concerned about what could happen to our emergency food and shelter programs next year, and in the years beyond, if Washington cannot find a responsible way around not over the fiscal cliff," said Asheville, N.C., Mayor Terry Bellamy, who heads the group's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness.
City officials cited more affordable housing, more jobs, more employment training programs and increased food stamp benefits as some of the ways to tackle the problems.
The report says figures from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that median household declined in 2011 to $50,054 annually, a 1.5 percent drop from the previous year, and that 46.2 million people, or 15 percent of the population, were in poverty. The number of homeless people on a single night in January 2012 was estimated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to be 633,782.
According to the survey findings:
• Twenty-one of the cities, including Salt Lake City, reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased. The requests rose by an average of 22 percent.
• Budgets for emergency food purchases increased by 11 percent.
• Of the people needing emergency food assistance, 19 percent did not receive it.
• Emergency kitchens and food pantries in most of the cities had to reduce the quantity of food received or the amount of food offered per meal.
• More than half of the cities reported the number of homeless people increasing by an average of 7 percent.
• On average, 30 percent of homeless adults were severely mentally ill, 18 percent were physically disabled, 17 percent were employed, 16 percent were victims of domestic violence, 13 percent were veterans and 4 percent were HIV positive.
• An average of 17 percent of homeless people needing assistance did not receive it.
The struggle of Utah's homeless population was also highlighted Thursday at a vigil organized in part by Salt Lake City's Fourth Street Clinic, which serves low-income and homeless people.
Fourth Street Clinic's Consumer Advisory Board and the Salt Lake County Homeless Coordinating Council held the event in connection with the national Homeless Person's Memorial Day. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and advocate Pamela Atkinson spoke at the event, which paid tribute to homeless people who died while living on the streets or in transitional housing in 2012. The number of homeless who died in Utah this year is estimated to be about 50 people.
The event was designed to raise awareness that disease is three to four times more prevalent in homeless populations and the average age at death while homeless is three decades earlier than those who have a home, said Jennifer Hyvonen, the clinic's external affairs director.
Salt Lake City by the numbers
An annual survey on hunger and homelessness by the United States Conference of Mayors, which covered Sept. 1, 2011, to Aug. 31, 2012, included this data on Salt Lake City:
Requests for emergency food assistance increased by 23 percent over the previous year.
Ten percent of the demand for emergency food assistance is estimated to have gone unmet.
Both the number of homeless families and the number of homeless individuals increased by 21 percent over the previous year.
An average of 2,155 people were homeless on a given night.
Among homeless adults, 21 percent were severely mentally ill, 16 percent were victims of domestic violence, 14 percent were veterans, 8 percent were physically disabled, 2 percent were employed and 1 percent were HIV positive.