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US privation on the rise
Survey of 29 cities shows worrying increases in homelessness and food aid requests this year.
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2011 19:31

US mayors have voiced serious concerns over deepening economic woes after a survey of 29 cities across the country showed significant rises in homelessness and food aid requests.

Of the 29 cities, 25 reported increased requests for emergency food assistance in the past year.

According to the survey, there has been a 15.5 per cent average increase in requests for food aid and one in four people in need of it could not get access to it.

The US government also reported that the nationwide poverty rate has increased to 15.1 per cent this year, up from 14.3 per cent in 2010.

"Here is the richest country in the world (and) we have people who cannot  find a place to live," said Sly James, Kansas City's mayor 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.

In Kansas City, Missouri, the rate of food aid spiked by 40 per cent, the highest increase in the survey, followed by Boston, Massachusetts and Salt Lake City, Utah with a 35 per cent increase and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with 32 per cent.

Unemployment was the primary cause of hunger, according to the cities, whose total emergency food budget as a group last year was $272m.

The cities are also 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 Terry Bellamy, the mayor of Asheville, North Carolina.

Homelessness across the surveyed cities rose an average of 6 per cent, according to the report. Especially hard hit was Charleston, South Carolina, where homelessness rose 33 per cent, Cleveland, Ohio (21 per cent) and Detroit,
Michigan (16 per cent).

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.

An average of 18 per cent of homeless people seeking assistance were turned away, in part because there were not enough beds in homeless shelters.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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