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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                       Contact: Christine Hwang 
December 21, 2010                                            

  U.S. Conference of Mayors Report Shows Homelessness is Getting Worse
Lack of Shelter Space Could Mean Hypothermia and Death for Homeless People

WASHINGTON, D.C.- This morning, on National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) released its Annual Hunger and Homelessness Report.  It shows significant increases in requests for emergency shelter and food assistance in the 27 cities studied.

The report indicates that the number of families experiencing homelessness increased by an average of nine percent and the number of unaccompanied individuals experiencing homelessness increased by an average of 2.5 percent.  In two thirds of cities surveyed, emergency shelters were forced to turn away homeless people due to lack of capacity.  And finally, requests for emergency food assistance jumped 24 percent over the last year.

These shelter requests, limited as they are by bed capacity, only reflect a fraction of the number of those facing the winter months without shelter. And with unprecedented demand and funding cuts limiting available shelter space, thousands of homeless people are at risk of hypothermia and death this holiday season.

"More and more people are experiencing homelessness, and they're in grave danger with temperatures dropping.  This is a wake-up call to stop the funding cuts - and for the federal government to actually increase its investment," said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.  "To call safety-net programs essential is an understatement.  This is literally a life-or-death issue."

Meanwhile, with federal stimulus funds beginning to dry up and state and local governments facing major budget shortfalls, there is little now standing between homeless people and a deadly winter.  Some local responses have been less than compassionate. Today, the city council in Washington, D.C. is considering a law that would exclude non-D.C. residents from emergency shelter in the District, even during hypothermia season. The City of New York is conducting an experiment to test its homelessness prevention program that intentionally denies assistance to eligible applicants for two years as a way of examining whether their homelessness prevention program really works. And cities across the country are restricting the public sharing of food with people experiencing homelessness, even in this time of great need.

"People are dying who don't need to die.  We can absolutely prevent this.  But it's going to take political will.  As they consider cuts and increases to safety-net funding, I urge legislators at all levels of government to keep in mind the consequences to real human beings," said Foscarinis.

Since 1990, National Homeless Persons Memorial Day has honored all the men, women, and children who have died while homeless.  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, more than 2,600 homeless people died in 2009.  This is likely a significant undercount, given the inherent difficulties in gathering such data.

In Washington, D.C. today, the deceased will be honored at a candlelight vigil at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, at 6 p.m.  Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Barbara Poppe, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, will speak at the memorial. There will also be a tribute to Sister Mary Ann Luby, a tireless homeless advocate who passed away in November.


The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty's mission is to prevent and end homelessness by serving as the legal arm of the national movement.  To achieve its mission, the Law Center pursues three main strategies: impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education.