Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released an in-depth report examining the hunger and homelessness situations in 25 cities across the country, including Asheville. he report found that the city has serious issues with low wages, unaffordable housing, poverty, and the number of domestic violence survivors who end up homeless. Increases in homelessness are modest, but more families are homeless.
The report also highlighted some local organizations doing “exemplary” work on the issues but predicted that coming social service cuts could make the situations on both fronts more dire.
Here are a few highlights:
• Of Asheville’s homeless population, 60 percent were domestic violence survivors, by far the highest percentage of any of the cities. In the other cities — including those like Chicago, Ill., or Trenton, N.J,. that face far more serious crime and economic issues — between 5 and 30 percent of the homeless population were domestic violence survivors.
• The most commonly cited reasons for Ashevilleans becoming homeless were “lack of affordable housing, low-paying jobs and poverty.” Asheville’s unemployment rate is lower than many of the other cities in the survey.
• In many evictions in other cities, a lack of services for the poor or mentally ill and unemployment are more prominent reasons for homelessness. In Asheville, by contrast, local jobs often don’t pay enough for people to afford housing, the report concluded.
• The homeless population in Asheville increased by 8 percent last year, with a 10 percent decrease in the number of homeless individuals offset by a sharp increase in homeless families. In some cases, the report found, while local shelters had enough beds for individuals, they had to turn away families.
• In the coming year, there will be a modest increase in the number of homeless, marked — as it was this year — by an increase in homeless families.
• The report provided some insight into the makeup of Asheville’s homeless population. As noted before, most are domestic violence survivors. Forty percent suffer from severe mental illness, 20 percent are disabled, 15 percent are veterans, 10 percent are employed and 10 percent are HIV positive.
• On the positive side, the report praised Bounty and Soul, a food distribution program run by St. James Episcopal Church and aided by MANNA FoodBank. This program emphasizes healthy foods and gives away 2,000 pounds of fresh produce a week.
• The report also praised efforts by local governments and organizations for working to end chronic homelessness, especially coordination between the Veteran Affairs office and the “local faith community” to help veterans find and transition into permanent housing.
• On the hunger front, “unemployment, medical/health costs and poverty” were the main reasons Ashevilleans went without enough food in the last year.
• Last year, there was a 10 percent increase in food distributed to the needy in Asheville, a total of almost 3.5 million pounds. Most of it (57 percent) came from donations from grocery chains and other food suppliers.
• Budgets for emergency food assistance decreased by 14 percent this year. The report estimates that cuts at the local, state, and federal levels will pose an increasing problem across the country.
• Twenty percent of those requesting food assistance in Asheville are elderly.