Fiscal cliff likely to affect homeless and hunger program progress
Crisis Ministries’ homeless shelter chef Bill Peeples said one of the biggest constants last year was the number of people coming in who were once tied to the housing industry — handymen, maintenance workers and others who fell down on their luck when the housing bubble burst.
Among those requesting assistance, 30 percent were employed and 17 percent were elderly.
Pantries and emergency kitchens had to reduce the quantity of food provided during each visit and the number of times a person or family could visit each month.
Requests for assistance are expected to increase moderately, while resources will decrease moderately.
Among homeless adults, 47 percent were severely mentally ill and 37 percent were veterans.
Shelters did not turn away homeless or individuals in the past year.
The level of homeless families and individuals and resources should stay steady.
U.S. Conference of Mayors 2012 Report on Hunger & Homelessness
“Hopefully, it’s over,” Peeples said.
Yet there’s a new fear on the horizon. What if the “fiscal cliff” isn’t solved in Washington in the next 10 days and the trickle-down of government services some shelters and food banks rely on get cut?
A new report indicates that the Charleston area is faring much better than other cities in addressing its homeless and hunger issues, but it also warns that the 2013 budget uncertainties remain a nagging unknown.
“Concern about cuts in U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity distribution and other food programs continues,” said the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 2012 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness, released Thursday.
Additionally, the report said several cities in the study say lower levels of private food donations may be in the cards in 2013, requiring “programs to make up the losses by purchasing increasingly costly food.”
Charleston was one of 25 cities, large and small, included in the annual report that reviewed homeless and hunger situations nationwide, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and in between.
Local positives outlined in the report said Charleston’s Lowcountry Food Bank is doing well at reaching the key vulnerable groups involving children and seniors. The study also said Charleston shelters are providing full coverage for most seeking a bed for the night.
But Crisis Ministries CEO Stacey Denaux said if a deal on easing the automatic spending cuts isn’t reached, she anticipates a return of conditions close to when the local housing bubble burst, with the worst of the fallout coming months after the rest of the country.
The shelter’s free-meal services most likely will be tested the most, she said, as people begin to prioritize.
“People will sacrifice medicine and food before they sacrifice housing,” she said.
While cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development could mean a huge hit to rural parts of the state, Crisis Ministries may not be affected as greatly as some groups because of its diversity in funding sources, Denaux said.
On the food side, officials at the Lowcountry Food Bank also have spoken out against going over the fiscal cliff, asking members of the state’s congressional delegation to avoid cutting key food programs. That includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.
“SNAP is the foundation of our national nutritional safety net and our first line of defense against hunger,” food bank president and CEO Patricia S. Walker wrote in a letter this month.
“Cutting SNAP benefits would significantly increase hunger and poverty among South Carolina’s most vulnerable residents and shift the pain of deficit reductions to those who are not responsible for creating the problem,” she added.
Some of the area’s homeless said they are watching the news to see what daily progress there is on a deal. Among them is Lester Kent, 64, of Summerville, who said he has been homeless for about three weeks after not being able to afford his rent.
Kent, who stopped by Crisis Ministries at lunchtime Thursday, is trained in installing truck radiators. He said the problem now is that businesses don’t want to hire until Washington moves on a budget a solution.
“They’re reluctant to think about hiring people who are homeless, despite their capabilities or accomplishments,” he said.