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Hunger and homelessness on the rise in U.S. cities, and Congress isn’t helping, mayors say

Mercy Wong protests at a Silicon Valley homeless encampment known as The Jungle on Dec. 4 in San Jose, Calif.  (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Hunger and homelessness are on the rise in cities across the country, and Congress isn’t helping, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said in a report released Thursday.

“Mayors in cities across the country are doing all they can to provide the resources for those in need, but the number of people looking for food assistance seems to be growing,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, co-chair of the Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, in a statement.

Schneider said she was concerned about cities’ emergency food and shelter programs in the coming years “if federal budgeting makes it harder, no easier, to meet our responsibilities to all of our people.”

“[U]ntil our economy improves for all Americans, programs to combat poverty, hunger, and homelessness need to be protected —  not compromised, not sacrificed — by our Congress,” she said.

The report was not a comprehensive look at all cities, but included responses from the mayors of 25 cities and found that in the past year, 71 percent of those cities saw an increase in requests for emergency food assistance, and 43 percent saw an increase in the number of families experiencing homelessness. You can see a breakdown of the report by the numbers by my colleague Niraj Chokshi here.

Federal emergency food assistance makes up at least 20 percent of the food distributed in eight of the cities. Los Angeles had the highest reliance at 51 percent, and expressed worry over slashed funding, writing in the report it was “concerned that cutbacks by Congress to these critical programs are a harbinger of future cuts, specifically to child nutrition programs that come up for reauthorization next year.”

“There’s no question that the nation’s economy is on the mend,” said conference CEO Tom Cochran in a statement. “But there’s also no question that the slow pace of the recovery in past years has made it difficult — and for many of our cities, impossible — to respond to the growing needs of hungry and homeless Americans.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors includes the nearly 1,400 U.S. cities with a population of at least 30,000. The 25 cities included in the report were those with mayors that are members of the Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. Those cities were Asheville, N.C.; Boston; Charleston S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Des Moines, Iowa; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ken.; Memphis, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Plano, Tex.; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn.; Salt Lake City, San Antonio; San Francisco; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Trenton, N.J.; and Washington.

Read more: City hunger and homelessness, in 10 charts