WASHINGTON — US mayors sounded an alarm Thursday over deepening economic woes after a survey of 29 cities from Los Angeles to Washington showed worrying rises in homelessness and poverty-related food aid.
“Here is the richest country in the world (and) we have people who cannot find a place to live,” said Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who co-chairs a task force on hunger and homelessness for the US Conference of Mayors.
“We are failing” to address critical issues of homelessness and the use of food stamps, which is “increasing, not decreasing,” he told reporters on a conference call to discuss the survey.
The government has reported that 46.2 million people nationwide were living in poverty in 2010 and that the rate climbed to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent a year earlier.
Of the 29 cities surveyed — all of which have more than 30,000 residents — 25 reported increased requests for emergency food assistance in the past year.
In Kansas City, Missouri, the rate of food aid spiked by 40 percent, the highest increase in the survey, followed by Boston and Salt Lake City with a 35 percent increase and Philadelphia with 32 percent. Food aid requests in San Francisco dropped by 11 percent.
Unemployment was the primary cause of hunger, according to the cities, whose total emergency food budget as a group last year was $272 million.
And the cities are not expecting improvements. All but two predicted emergency food requests will increase next year, with three-quarters of the cities forecasting shrinking food aid budgets.
“It is not surprising that the combination of increasing demand and decreasing resources is the biggest challenge that they would face in that effort to address hunger in the next year,” said Mayor Terry Bellamy of Asheville, North Carolina.
Homelessness across the surveyed cities rose an average of six percent, according to the report. Especially hard hit was Charleston, South Carolina, where homelessness rose 33 percent, Cleveland, Ohio (21 percent) and Detroit, Michigan (16 percent).
Two out of three cities surveyed predicted their homeless numbers will grow in the next year.
The report said more than a quarter of homeless adults were “severely mentally ill,” while 13 percent were US military veterans.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing veterans who fought for this country… to find themselves living on the street,” said James, the Kansas City mayor.
An average of 18 percent of homeless people seeking assistance were turned away, in part because there were not enough beds in homeless shelters.