In its annual report on homelessness and hunger released in mid-December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 42% of the 29 cities surveyed reported an increase in homelessness. In contrast to recent years, cities reported that increases are driven more by persistent unemployment rates than by foreclosures and evictions.
Between September 2010 and September 2011, the homeless population increased across the cities surveyed by an average of six percent, with 42% of the cities reporting an increase and 19% saying the number stayed the same. Thirty-eight percent of the cities said the number actually decreased. A lack of affordable housing trailed only unemployment as the most common response for the cause of both family and individual homelessness.
Illustrating the shift from a reliance on shelters to an emphasis on rapid re-housing, eight out of the 23 cities that elaborated on effective initiatives to address homelessness specifically referenced efforts made possible through HUD’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. Several of the cities also described their use of the Housing First rapid re-housing and case management model, which has been supported by HUD through its Shelter Plus Care and Supportive Housing programs.
Despite prevention efforts, shelters are still overburdened. Of the cities surveyed, 25% reported that shelters consistently had to provide nontraditional sleeping arrangements in order to accommodate the increase in demand over the past year. Seventy percent of surveyed cities reported that emergency shelters turned away individuals experiencing homelessness because there were no beds available for them, and two-thirds of the cities report the same for families with children.
In the section on hunger, the report states that requests for food assistance went up in 86% of the cities surveyed, by an average of 15%. Requests from first-time clients were higher in 87.5% of cities. Recognizing the way in which high housing costs can leave less in the monthly budget for other essentials, the majority of respondents (68%) suggested that the best way to combat hunger was to provide more affordable housing, followed by providing more food stamps (61%) and providing more employment training programs (61%).
Given the current state of public and private agency budgets, officials in 64% of the cities expect resources to provide emergency shelter to decrease over the next year, with 18% of cities expecting the decrease to be substantial.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Survey is available at http://www.usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/2011-hhreport.pdf