Mayors’ study: Hunger in Charlotte on the rise, but homelessness declines

Hunger is on the rise in Mecklenburg County as requests for emergency food from Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina rose 12.5 percent between Sept. 1, 2013 and this past Aug. 31, according to a 25-city hunger and homelessness survey released Thursday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

At the same time, the number of homeless families in Charlotte fell by 27 percent – and homeless individuals by 8 percent – during that period, the survey said.

The report is prepared each year by the mayors of the survey cities, members of a hunger and homelessness task force. The task force this year included Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter. The numbers for hunger were compiled by Second Harvest and for homelessness by the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services.

Kay Carter, Second Harvest’s CEO, said the numbers on hunger are conservative. She said they were based on reports from 200 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

“With over 153,000 people in Mecklenburg County living at or below the poverty level – including 60,000 children and seniors – hunger continues to be a significant issue in our community,” Carter said.

Most poor families, she said, “struggle on a daily basis to meet all their basic needs ... resulting in them needing the services of an emergency pantry.”

The Mayors’ report comes at a time when a Mecklenburg County task force is searching for causes to why economic mobility for the poor is so daunting here and solutions. Last January, Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley released a study showing that upward mobility for children in poverty is more difficult in Charlotte than in any of the country’s 50 largest cities.

That task force is expected to deliver a report in late 2015.

In the Mayors’ survey, Charlotte was one of 17 of the 25 cities that reported an increase in emergency food requests.

The report said that in Charlotte 10 percent of food needs went unmet, less than half of the national average of 22 percent. The city joined 16 other cities in the survey reporting an increase in emergency food requests.

In 82 percent of the cities, including Charlotte, emergency kitchens and food pantries had to reduce the frequency that individuals or families could visit a food pantry, the survey said.

At times, some pantries in Charlotte had to turn people away, the report said. Still, more than 42.3 million pounds of food was distributed, a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, the city’s largest food pantry, said her organization saw a decrease in food requests.

The study showed that 83 percent of people requesting food assistance were employed. But Howard said 60 percent of the heads of families requesting food from Loaves & Fishes were looking for jobs or were disabled.

“It’s extremely difficult to get solid data on hunger,” Howard said. “Second Harvest bases its numbers on many pantry organizations that are their members.”

On homelessness, Charlotte was among the nine surveyed cities where the number of families who needed emergency shelters decreased the past year. The number of the city’s homeless families declined by 27 percent and individuals by 8 percent over the past year.

Nationally, 43 percent of cities reported an increase and 22 percent said the number stayed the same.