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Hunger, homelessness on the rise in major US cities, study finds

Officials in surveyed cities attribute rising number living on street to low wages and lack of affordable housing

Many of America’s largest cities continue to grapple with rising food insecurity and homelessness, according to a report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Tuesday. The latest iteration of the non-partisan group’s annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey found that homeless shelters and food pantries across 22 U.S. cities are struggling to keep up with rising demand for their services.

It is in Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Los Angeles where homelessness was found to have increased the most sharply over the past year. The largest increase came in Washington, D.C., where the number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 28 percent and the number of homeless families went up by 60 percent. Meanwhile, requests for emergency food assistance in the city rose by 27 percent during the same period.

Overall, across the 22 cities included in the survey, homelessness increased by 1.6 percent over the past year, the survey found. The amount of emergency food assistance distributed by those cities increased by three percent. The cities surveyed included Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

As in prior years, officials from those cities identified low wages and a shortage of affordable housing as major factors contributing to hunger and homelessness. A growing number of cities over the past three years have sought to address poverty by raising wages, spurred in part by a series of nationwide strikes and protests from fast-food employees and other low-wage workers. Over the course of 2015, 14 U.S. cities and states — including Los Angeles, the state of New York, and Massachusetts — have approved $15 minimum wage rules for some or all workers, according to a Monday press release from the National Employment Law Project.

The estimated number of homeless people nationwide has declined steadily since 2007, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, the number of people in shelters has remained roughly consistent, and many urban areas have seen homelessness rise.

Hunger, meanwhile, has remained consistently elevated nationwide since the Great Recession. The budget for food stamps has nonetheless been significantly tapered over the last few years, including by a $5 billion across-the-board benefits cut that took place in November 2013.

Some cities did see a marked decrease in homelessness, including San Francisco, which saw a 15 percent drop in the number of homeless people within city limits. The Conference of Mayors did not elaborate on the reasons for the decline, but applauded an “exemplary” city initiative called the Navigation Center, which offers temporary housing to homeless individuals and has them work with case managers to find a more permanent solution. 

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