Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released the 2008 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, an analysis of the scale of the hunger and homelessness problems in a group of American cities and the efforts these cities are making to address those problems. In these difficult and uncertain economic times, cities across the country are reporting an increase in the prevalence of homelessness and requests for emergency food assistance. The City of Santa Monica belongs to the Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Task Force and is one of the 25 cities that responded to the survey.
Nationally, cities are making progress in reducing homelessness through developing and implementing plans to address homelessness and investing in strategies to serve and house their hardest to house populations. In February 2008 Santa Monica adopted an “Action Plan to Address Homelessness” and created a Chronic Homeless Program Service Registry, a detailed listing of the community’s 131 most vulnerable and chronic homeless individuals. Targeted support services and housing resources have helped fifty-one percent of those individuals move off the streets.
Of the respondents to the survey, 19 of the 25 cities, including Santa Monica, reported an increase in the prevalence of homelessness. With the economy in a recession and unemployment rising, the survey noted that the need for homeless services may continue to increase. Santa Monica will continue to employ innovative, aggressive, and compassionate strategies to reduce street homelessness and prevent homelessness among the city’s priority populations.
Santa Monica, like most of the surveyed cities, reports that the demand for emergency food assistance during the past year has outpaced an increase in supply. However, the City participates in the Farm to Family program, a produce distribution program that links California produce growers with the state’s established network of food banks. Managed by the California Association of Food Banks, this program has brought an extra 250,000 pounds of produce to Santa Monica residents in the past year. It is likely that there will be a continued national increase in demand for emergency food assistance in 2009. However, local food assistance programs, like the Westside Food Bank, may benefit from falling fuel and food prices.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,139 such cities in the country today, each represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the Mayor. For the past 22 years, The Conference of Mayors has reported on the shortage of emergency services – food, shelter, medical care, income assistance and emergency assistance – in our nation’s cities.