Closer look

Profile of hunger

Requests for emergency food assistance increased by 5.25 percent over the past year.

Among persons requesting food assistance, 32 percent are in families, 30 percent are employed, 17 percent are elderly, and 2 percent are homeless.

Food pantries and emergency kitchens had to reduce the quantity of food provided during each visit and/or the amount of food offered per meal at emergency kitchens, and reduce the number of times a person or family could visit each month.

None of the demand for emergency food assistance is estimated to have gone unmet.

For the next year, city officials expect requests for food assistance to increase moderately and resources to provide food assistance to decrease substantially.

Profile of homelessness

The number of homeless families increased by 29 percent, and the number of homeless individuals increased by 2 percent over the past year.

Among homeless adults, 33 percent are severely mentally ill, 30 percent are physically disabled, 29 percent are veterans, 14 percent are employed, and 1 percent are HIV-positive.

Shelters had to turn away homeless families and homeless individuals because there were no beds available for them.

City officials estimate that 40 percent of the demand for shelter went unmet.

For the next year, city officials expect the number of homeless families and homeless individuals to continue at the same level; resources to provide emergency shelter are expected to decrease substantially.

Source: U.S. Conference of Mayors 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Report

Anthony Scott relocated to Charleston from Philadelphia three months ago, hoping the job climate would be better.

So far that's not been the case. He looks for work every day, but at age 51, nothing has materialized, leaving him homeless and living in a shelter with a fiancee and a 10-month-old to care for.

"We thought when we came here it wouldn't be that long," said Scott, who said he is 280th on a waiting list for space with the local housing authority.

"I can do just about anything," he added of his desire for work.

Scott's story is one of the hundreds tied to being homeless or going hungry in Charleston. And while an annual report released Wednesday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors lists several accomplishments being made to combat both issues locally, it also says finding enough to eat or a safe place to live remains elusive for thousands.

"One hundred and fifty-six people slept here last night," said Amy Zeigler, vice president for development at the Crisis Ministries shelter on Meeting Street. "And the reality is that 156 people will be sleeping here tonight."

Charleston is one of 25 U.S. cities of all sizes included in the report. It assesses homelessness and hunger nationwide, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, along with other municipalities in between. Collectively, these cities distribute 557 million pounds of food each year.

Last year, veterans, those affected by the housing industry crash and federal budget uncertainties were among some of the top concerns for groups advocating for the homeless. For the year ahead, homeless veterans still remain front and center for many agencies, Zeigler said, as the federal government is pushing to end veterans' homelessness by 2015.

In terms of providing meals to the hungry in Charleston, access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food still remains a factor. And the Lowcountry Food Bank reported that difficulties in food delivery could arise even further as the climate of federal cutbacks continues to be fought in Washington.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP and formerly known as the federal food stamp program, is part of the philosophical battleground.

"Some people point to the significant work that food banks do to suggest that hunger is best solved by charities operating at the community level," the Lowcountry Food Bank also said in part of its entry in the report.

"Speaking from the front lines, the LCFB is among the first to say that charities cannot do it alone," it concluded.

Based on the report, some areas where Charleston was performing well included:

In 2012, the Lowcountry Food Bank partnered with Share Our Strength, a national organization committed to ending childhood hunger, to launch a series of "Cooking Matters" courses.

Each six-week Cooking Matters course empowers low-income people to prepare healthy and affordable meals on a budget. The courses serve low-income families, children and senior citizens.

In terms of helping homeless veterans, Crisis Ministries recently received a $2 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs for what is called a Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, designed to provide needed services in a central location. The goal is to promote housing stability among very-low-income veteran families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing.

Zeigler said that given the current economic climate around Charleston, she sees no break in the level of demand at the shelter, which provides services for at least 1,600 people annually. "We continue to serve more people every year," she said. "That's the bottom line."

LCFB President and CEO Pat Walker added that he suspected people may not be seeing how far food shortages go in the area. "Hunger hides, and people may be shocked to learn how many of their friends and neighbors struggle with hunger invisibly," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.