Growing Hunger and Homelessness in America


by Stephen Lendman


Millions of Americans now endure protracted Depression conditions at a time half the population is either poor or low income. Long-term unemployment is unprecedented, and federal aid is being cut, not increased.

Two new reports highlight enormous depravation levels and human suffering, getting little or no major media attention. Many affected families used to be middle class. They’re now low-income or impoverished by unemployment or spotty low-pay part-time work.

Most important is that much worse conditions are coming during America’s greatest ever Depression to last years and devastate many more households than already.

In December, the US Conference on Mayors published its “Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities.”

It covered 29 cities. The period between September 1, 2010 and August 31, 2011 was examined. Key findings reflected dire nationwide conditions.

Only four cities said emergency help wasn’t requested in the past year. In two cities, conditions were unchanged. Two others said they improved. Overall, aid requests increased by 15.5%.

Among those needing it, 51% were in families, 26% were employed, 19% were elderly, and 11% homeless. Causes cited included unemployment, poverty, low wages, and high housing costs.

Cities reported an average 10% increase in the amount of food distributed. Over 70% of them reported emergency food purchase budget increases. Nonetheless, 27% of people needing it didn’t get it. Demand’s fast outstripping supply and/or the willingness of cities to help during hard times.

Under tight budget conditions, 86% of emergency kitchens and food pantries reduced the quantity of food distributed per visit to accommodate larger numbers. Moreover, demand is so heavy that people are now turned away.

No city surveyed expects emergency requests to decline next year. Nearly all, in fact, expect increases given dire economic conditions.

At the same time, 75% of cities expect emergency resource decreases next year. Over 40% said they’ll be substantial.

“The combination of increasing demand and decreasing resources was cited most frequently….as the biggest challenge (ahead) in addressing hunger….”

Of major concern is less federal help and declining food donations. High unemployment and dire economic conditions are taking a terrible toll.

In the past year, homelessness increased overall by 6%. Among families, however, it rose 16%. For unaccompanied individuals, it grew 1%. Among households with children, unemployment contributed most to homelessness.

Cities also reported 26% of homeless adults “were severely mentally ill,” another 16% physically disabled, 15% employed, 13% victimized by domestic violence, 13% veterans, and 4% HIV positive.

On average, 18% of homeless persons needing help didn’t get it. At issue was availability of enough shelters and beds.

Most cities have policies to prevent homelessness, but measures employed aren’t enough. Nearly two-thirds of them expect family homelessness to increase next year. Over half think unaccompanied individual homeless will grow.

No city reported budget increases in 2012 to accommodate greater numbers of people. As a result, growing numbers won’t get aid.

Child Homelessness in America

In December, the National Center on Family Homeless (NCFH) issued its “State Report on Child Homelessness” titled, “America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010.”

Over 1.6 million children are affected, one in 45. It reflects a 38% increase over 2007, or nearly half a million homeless kids. They live on streets, in homeless shelters, motels, trailer parks, camping grounds, cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, bus and train stations, substandard housing, or double up with other families.

As a result, they endure hunger, poor physical and emotional health, and attain limited reading, math and computer skills. They’re physically, emotionally, academically, and otherwise denied.

According to HCFH president and founder Ellen Bassuk, their status suggests “an emerging Third World in (America’s) own backyard.” As a result, she urges “no further cuts in federal and state programs that help homeless children and families. Deeper cuts will only create more homelessness that will cost more to fix in the long run.”

The report’s key findings include:

  • 1.6 million homeless children in a year, over 30,000 weekly, and more than 4,400 daily; in fact, the survey acknowledges a likely undercount in key states like California because its data collection procedures changed;

  • homeless children suffer extreme deprivation and lost educational opportunities; as a result, they’re severely impaired;

  • hard economic times are directly responsible;

  • only one in five states reported a decrease in child homelessness between 2007 and 2010; 25 states said numbers doubled during the reporting period; and

  • states are doing little to help; 16 have no plans in place; only seven have extensive ones.

Kids (mostly in single female parent headed households) are largely on their own to cope. As a result, hundreds of thousands across America have no place to call home.

“Homelessness is devastating for children.” Annually, 97% have to move up to three times. Families have to split up to manage. In shelters they face noisy, chaotic, unsafe, overcrowded conditions.

Traumatic stress levels are high, cumulative, and increasingly harmful over time. Homeless children suffer high rates of acute and chronic illnesses. They’re hungry twice as often as other kids. Their emotional and behavioral problems are three times greater.

The effects cause long-term harm, including their ability to function and form sustaining adult relationships.

An estimated 40% switch schools one or more times annually. They’re four times more likely to experience delayed development and twice as likely to have learning disabilities. One-third repeat grades. Constant uncertainty and trauma have a profound effect on their ability to learn and function normally in life.

Over 40% are younger than six. Over one-third of their mothers have chronic physical health problems. They experience four to five times greater depression rates. Children are directly affected.

Bassuk acknowledged a disturbing picture in a country as affluent as America. It shows little inclination to help its most needy. Kids come from impoverished families. They’re extremely traumatized. Their prospects are dim. Many end up emotionally impaired school dropouts.

Most live in single parent female-headed households. An entire generation is affected. Austerity threatens to cut federal aid when large increases are needed. In 2009, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness’ “Opening Doors” initiative committed to end child and family homelessness in 10 years. Instead, numbers keep spiking dramatically because commitment hasn’t followed policy.

As a result, conditions for America’s needy are less met now than years back. Young kids always suffer most.

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