As Denver's food assistance requests jumped in 2012, the city struggled to meet the need

In 2012, requests for emergency food assistance increased in cities across the country -- and a new report shows that in Denver, the need was especially high. Over the past year, requests jumped by 56 percent in Denver, the U.S. Conference of Mayors says, and the city was unable to meet roughly twenty percent of the needs. City officials, however, say a new program slated for 2013 should help address some of the disparities.

The report released last week from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and on full view below, is based on surveys of 25 cities across the country, regarding homelessness and emergency food assistance. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock who has gotten a lot of attention for his homeless policies, is a member of the conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, which is why Denver was included in the study.

The report, timed well with the pending threat of fiscal cliff cuts, which could impact these kinds of services in cities across the country, documents the overall growth in the demand for emergency food and housing in the participating cities.

On the whole, many cities over the past year have been forced to reduce the amount of food emergency kitchens can give clients and due to a lack of resources, most cities were turning away people in need. When it comes to homelessness, urban centers across the country are struggling to find shelter for everyone that needs it.

In Denver, there were some illuminating numbers, showing that the demand is very high and the city's efforts to meet those demands may in some ways be inadequate.

Across the 25 cities, the overall number of requests for food assistance increased by 22 percent -- which is lower than Denver's 56 percent jump.

The report says that Denver is close to the overall average of twenty percent when it comes to the demand for food assistance that went unmet over the last year.

And in Denver, a total of 11,745,117 pounds of food were distributed over the last year, which was about a five percent decrease from the previous year.

Additionally, ten percent of the needs for shelter in Denver went unmet, according to the report -- and that's lower than the seventeen percent average. (We explore the shelter system and the city's efforts to meet the growing demand in great detail in our recent cover story, "Bed Check.")

Continue for the city's response and the full report.

The report says that Denver, along with four other cities surveyed, expects a moderate increase in resources in the coming year.

Jamie Bradley, a spokeswoman for Denver's Department of Human Services, points us to a program that will begin next month through a $845,062 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation that should help address the high demands for food assistance. The initiative is called SNAP! Into Health and is aimed at accelerating the processes for people applying and reapplying for services, including food, medical and cash assistance. It also comes with an education component focused on access to healthy food.

These kinds of needs have been on the rise in Denver since the downturn in 2008, she says.

"Human Services is very dedicated to working with our community and making sure the underserved population is served," Bradley says. "We want to try to do everything possible to make sure people are aware of the resources available to them."

The SNAP! program aims to increase public assistance enrollment and access to health coverage.

In terms of efforts to accomodate those seeking shelter, Bradley says the city has launched winter overflow beds for men and women -- options also outlined in detail in our recent feature. Families looking for safe places to stay can get vouchers, she adds.

The city, Bradley says, "remains committed to making sure that everyone that wants and needs shelter can access it."

Here's the full report. Hunger and Homelessness Survey

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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Sam Levin
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