In yet another sign of growing family homelessness in Mecklenburg County, Loaves & Fishes released a survey Wednesday showing more of the families it serves are surviving by living with friends or extended family.
The survey of 1,239 pantry clients revealed 34 percent were sharing living space with friends or relatives. That’s up from 26 percent from the previous survey.
Meanwhile, donations to area food drives for the agency are down 23 percent compared with last fall, officials said.
Families doubling up in the same home is often a precursor to homelessness, say experts.
“That’s a big number, and I can’t help but wonder what it will be next year and what we’re going to do about it,” said Brad Austin, board president for Loaves & Fishes.
Family homelessness in Mecklenburg County has increased between 21 percent and 36 percent annually since 2009, which experts attribute to companies cutting back on pay for already low-wage jobs.
Loaves & Fishes conducts a survey each year to provide clues as to how the county’s poorest families are struggling. Among the revelations this year: Seventy percent in the survey went hungry in the past year because there wasn’t enough money for food.
Last year, the agency served nearly 127,000 people, 48 percent of whom were children.
Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, noted there was some good news in the survey: A 7 percent increase in the number of clients who are working – 39 percent unemployed versus 46 percent last year.
However, they are facing added challenges. Thousands of people in Mecklenburg County were forced to get pantry aid in recent months because the Department of Health and Human Services switch to a new technology system (NC Fast) delayed food stamp benefits for many across the state.
That issue has been resolved in Mecklenburg County, Howard said, but a new challenge was introduced on Nov. 1 when $5 billion was cut from the nation’s food stamp (SNAP) program.
Howard said that amounts to $1.5 million lost per month by the 161,000 families in Mecklenburg that benefit from the SNAP program.
The survey results were released on the same day the agency sent out its annual delivery of Thanksgiving turkeys for those served by the agency’s pantries in Mecklenburg.
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