Boston Hunger and Homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors) FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 16 Dec 1997 11:52:29 -0800 (PST)

FWD  A Status Report On Hunger and Homelessness in American Cities
     Completed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors:
     Task Force On Hunger and Homelessness

City: *Boston, Massachusetts


Increase in Requests for Emergency Food Assistance:  The economic
situation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is causing more and more
people to utilize emergency food programs.  A food stamp hotline reports
its number of call has doubled.

Requests by Families for Emergency Food Assistance:  Many families are
increasingly dependent on the emergency food system.  In a study released
last year by the Massachusetts Community Childhood Hunger Identification
Project, one child in four under the age of 12 is hungry or at least at
risk of being hungry.  A hunger hotline in this city notes that 60
percent of its total recipients are children.  Families are hurting in

The Capacity to meet the Need:  Although it is estimated that most
resources have remained the same, the need has increased.  Food programs
are hard pressed to meet the need.  One positive note is that the WIC
program funding was increased this year by 4.9 million, bringing the
total to 13 million in state money.

Emergency Food Assistance facilities: For Emergencies Only or as a Steady
Source of income:  What started out for most families as emergency Food
assistance has in large part became a mainstay for many.  The high cost of
living, high unemployment and the seeming disinterest of the state and
federal government are all contributing factors.

Emergency Food Assistance Facilities Unable to Provide an Adequate Amount
of Food:  Most Food pantries limit families to a three-day supply of food
per month so the quantity of available food is limited.  Private
contributions to food pantries, especially during the holiday season,
help considerably. However, with many people feeling the crunch, it
remains to be seen how long private contributions will remain at the same
level.  Special holiday food drive collections are down this year.

Facilities Having to turn People Away Because of Lack of Resources:  Some
pantries are occasionally forced to ask families to return at a later
date because pantry shelves are temporarily bare.  However, many
facilities try to refer families to other locations where they might get
food.  This year, according to our major food bank, there were
insufficient donations to fill all requests for holiday food baskets.
The ever increasing number of families who need help, plus federal and
state cutbacks, are becoming enormous obstacles to providing food


Increase in the Duration of Homelessness:  The plight of the homeless
mentally ill has worsened, with further cuts to the Department of Mental
Health, resulting in further closings of state mental health facilities.
Cuts in detox beds has left many without needed recovery services.
Increased unemployment statewide and the lack of jobs has resulted in
increased unemployment, and the lack of opportunity prevents many who are
able from reaching self sufficiency.  For mentally ill individuals, the
average length of time is four to five years interspersed with
hospitalizations, and in many cases up to 10 years or more.

The Population:  Across the survey cities, it is estimated that single
men comprise 55 percent of the homeless population, families with
children 32 percent, single women 11 percent and unaccompanied youth two
percent of the homeless population. City officials estimate that 52
percent of the homeless population is African-American, 33 percent is
white, 11 percent is Hispanic, three percent is native American and one
percent is Asian.

It is estimated that persons considered mentally ill account for 28
percent of the homeless population in the survey cities; substance
abusers account for 41 percent.  In survey cities 17 percent of the
homeless people are employed in full- or part-time jobs and 18 percent
are veterans.  Nine percent of the homeless people in the survey cities
have AIDS or HIV related illness.

The Conditions faced by Homeless Families and Individuals:  As the number
of homeless families increases, and the number of housing subsidies
decreases, families are remaining homeless for longer periods of time.
Hopelessness and despair among parents is prevalent, devastating the
childrens sense of security and well-being.

Case Studies of homeless Families and Individuals:  Joe was laid-off from
his job in January, but was unable to keep up with his mortgage payments.
As a result the bank foreclosed on the mortgage, and Joe, his wife and
three kids were forced onto the streets.  Joe tried to find an apartment,
but he did not have enough money for the first months rent and another
month's rent for a security deposit, and the state no longer provided
that type of assistance.  Joe's only alternative was to get his family
into a shelter, at a cost of $60.00 a night to the state.  For the cost
of sheltering his family for ten nights, Joe and his family could have
had their own apartment.  Instead, they are crowded into a single hotel
room, and if shelter space does become available, Joe will probably have
to separate from his Family, because most family shelters do not allow
adult men.

Family Breakup-- A Requisite for Shelter:  Occasionally two-parent
families and those with older male children may have to break up because
most family shelters do not allow males over the age of 12."

People Turned Away from Shelters:  "The Massachusetts Department of
Public Welfare places families in shelters.  If shelters are full,
families may be placed in hotels and motels.  As a last resort, families
are temporarily sheltered at the Cities Long Island Shelter until the
Welfare Department provides services.

Impact of State Budget Cuts on the Homeless:  The State has virtually
eliminated what had been known as General Relief, the welfare program of
last resort for individuals which has increased the number of homeless
individuals in Boston.  Also, the emergency Assistance program, which had
been successful in preventing families from becoming homeless by paying
past due rent and/or utilities, has been gutted to only provide shelter,
increasing the number of homeless families with children.

Cuts to the Department of public Welfare have resulted in staff cuts,
further straining already over-burdened case workers.  Budget cuts and
administrative disarray, reducing services to the homeless mentally ill,
and forcing patients from mental health facilities to the streets.

How the problems of Hunger and Homelessness have Changed in 10 Years:
Since 1983 the city of Boston has conducted periodic census counts of the
homeless population.  In 1983 the count was 1,000, and in 1992 the count
reached over 4,000.  However, this study does not include families who
are doubled and tripled with other families, or people in safe or
inadequate housing. Still, it is a good indication of the effect of the
state and federal government's withdrawal from ensuring the availability
of affordable housing and other services that are direct causes of the
problems of homelessness.