In a holiday week often synonymous with abundance, Philadelphia reported a dearth of food and housing options for its most vulnerable residents.
Requests in Philadelphia for emergency food assistance rose 7 percent over the past year, according to a national report on hunger and homelessness made public Tuesday.
At the same time, food pantries and emergency kitchens in the city had to reduce the amount of food distributed, and an estimated 10 percent of demand for food assistance went unmet. (In 2014, the city reported 20 percent of demand went unmet.)
Chronic homelessness in Philadelphia nearly doubled from last year.
The findings were included in the latest annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Survey. The survey of 22 cities covered information from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31 of this year.
This is the 33d year the conference has done the study.
Half the cities included in the survey reported that requests for food increased, and two-thirds said they had to turn people away from pantries and shelters because of a lack of resources.
"There's a much broader effort but also a greater need," said Marie S. Nahikian, director of Philadelphia's Supportive Housing Office. "Also, as you broaden your efforts, you find more people who need help."
The median income in Philadelphia is $37,514, and nearly 27 percent of the city's residents live in poverty, the report said.
Sister Mary Scullion, president and executive director of Project HOME, said policy changes are needed at the national level. "For the poor, their benefits have been cut and cut and cut. It's death by a thousand cuts," Scullion said. "This is a growing problem and as we saw on the hopeful end - when the federal government provided housing subsidies for veterans, that issue dramatically improved."
Philadelphia was cited as one of several cities in the report to drive down veteran homelessness.
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney said in a statement that the survey was "another important reminder that our city's poverty is at a crisis point." Kenney says he plans to reinstate a children and families cabinet, which he says will better coordinate services from the Departments of Health, Human Services, Supportive Housing, and Behavioral Health.
The 22 survey cities include Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, and Seattle.
Among the cities surveyed, emergency food assistance rose an average 2.8 percent.
On average, an estimated 23 percent of demand for emergency food assistance went unmet.
While the demand for food assistance in Philadelphia increased, the amount distributed in the last year rose 8.7 percent, to 26.6 million pounds.
In the cities surveyed, the number of homeless individuals increased an average of 1.6 percent. The number of homeless families decreased an average of 5.2 percent.
The city's shelters added 172 emergency beds, for a total of 3,666.
Among homeless adults in Philadelphia, the report said 16 percent had some form of employment, 11 percent were domestic-violence victims, and 34 percent were severely mentally ill.
On an average night, the city had 3,558 people - including people in families and unaccompanied youths - in emergency shelters.
The city reported 670 adults on the streets, up from 371 reported in 2014.
Nahikian said a particularly warm fall likely contributed to the increase. She said the city also widened the geographic areas it visits in its point-in-time homeless count to include West Philadelphia.
Ultimately, Nahikian said, the solution is not more emergency housing, but increasing strategies to prevent homelessness, such as rent assistance and mortgage foreclosure prevention.
"When people find themselves homeless, if they're not chronically homeless, it's probably because of some event - their hours got cut, they had an illness, had to pay for a funeral," she said. "I can't tell you the number of people who that happens to."
firstname.lastname@example.org 215-854-5983 @RobertMoran215