CHICAGO, Dec 20, 2012 (AFP) - Hunger and homelessness are on the rise in the United States, and cash-strapped cities and social services are being forced to turn needy people away empty-handed, a study published Thursday found.
The number of homeless people seeking help had increased seven percent from 2011, according to a survey of social service operators in 25 of the nation's large cities commissioned by the Conference of Mayors.
Even though food pantries and soup kitchens have cut back how much people received in an attempt to make their limited resources go further, the survey found that about 19 percent of the people asking for help didn't get any.
"In Philadelphia, I see people who are hungry and in need of shelter on a daily basis," said the city's mayor Michael Nutter.
"Explaining to them that Congress is cutting funding for the help they need is not acceptable. What they need are jobs so they can support their families, and Congress can help to create those jobs if it passes a fair and balanced budget with investments in infrastructure, innovation, and real people."
The most striking increase in homelessness was among families, and shelters had to turn away about 17 percent of people seeking a place to sleep due to lack of space.
A lack of affordable housing was the most common reason for homelessness among families with children, followed by poverty, unemployment, eviction and domestic violence. The same reasons held true for individuals, who were also affected by mental illness and substance abuse.
The survey found that 30 percent of homeless adults were severely mentally ill, 18 percent were physically disabled, 17 percent were employed, 16 percent were victims of domestic violence, 13 percent were veterans, and four percent were HIV-positive.
Some 51 percent of the people seeking food assistance were families, 37 percent were employed, 17 percent were elderly and nine percent were homeless.
Unemployment was nonetheless the leading cause of hunger, followed by poverty, low wages and high housing costs.