Hungry and Homeless Hearts

The economy may be generally robust, but hungry and homeless Americans haven't yet felt the good news.

A report released last week by the United States Conference of Mayors shows that both unemployment and a lack of affordable housing have driven up the number of requests for emergency food and shelter this year. This news tracks with the findings of other hunger-relief agencies.

In 25 cities surveyed, requests for food were up an average of 17 percent over 2002; for shelter, 13 percent.

Fifty-nine percent of those requesting assistance were members of families with children. Thirty-nine percent were adults who were employed - not the typical profile that comes to mind.

Perhaps more troubling, more than half of the cities surveyed reported that people in need were being turned away due to their cities' lack of resources, largely as a result of the recent economic slowdown.

While a lack of affordable housing has remained a persistent problem for the homeless in recent years, 20 cities in the survey also cited mental illness and a lack of needed services, along with substance abuse and low-paying jobs as factors in the increases.

President Bush has been offering money to cities to develop long-range plans to eliminate homelessness, with the goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2012.

An estimated 700,000 to 800,000 people are homeless in the US on any average day. He's asked dozens of federal agencies to work together to assist local governments in dealing with the problem.

Many Americans use the holidays to reach out to help the homeless and the hungry in the spirit of giving. For local government, however, the demand is year-round.

And even after the economy starts humming along, there is likely to be a continuing need for individuals and government to provide a roof and a meal for both the disabled and the destitute, while also finding new ways to permanently end such needs.

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