The June 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Court Upholds Legal Rights of Homeless People

Hunger Rises, Food Stamps Cut

National Hunger Survey

Union Busting in El Salvador

CEO Pay Rises, Worker Pay Shrinks

CEOs Scheme to Privatize Social Security

Dee's Story: The Stigma of Being Homeless

Bush's Chronic Homeless Plan

Pepperspray and Torture

How Earth Day Was Co-opted

St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Hodges Jones

Jose Querdo

Jeannette Hundley

James Jermany

Ken Minor

Lynn Hoberg

Social Justice in the East Bay

100 Teachings of Gandhi

June Poetry of the Streets

Students Poetry


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Nationwide Survey of Hunger in America

by Lydia Gans

A really heartbreaking finding of these national hunger surveys is the number of children who experience hunger. In the three surveys, 39 percent, 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively, of people receiving food assistance were children under 18.

As part of a nationwide survey on hunger in America, Alameda County Food Bank volunteer Phil Liston interviews a client, Rosalva Bermudez. Photo by Lydia Gans

We here at Street Spirit write a great deal about homelessness. But homelessness is only one aspect of poverty in America, only one measure of the gross inequity between the rich and the poor, of the growing gap that is making us look more and more like a Third World country. Another consequence of poverty is hunger.

It's not so easy to show hunger. We don't have emaciated people or children with big bellies roaming our streets; but it is a fact that there are significant numbers of people, including children, right here in America, who do not get enough to eat.

America's Second Harvest is a national network of food banks which distribute food through local programs to people in need. Every four years they carry out a detailed study of hunger in America.

Locally, staff and volunteers from the Alameda County Community Food Bank recently interviewed individuals who use food programs and collected information from agencies which distribute food. This national hunger survey will be published sometime in December 2005.

They survey a stratified random sample (for non-statisticians, that means a sample that accurately reflects the population of interest) of programs that provide meals, distribute groceries to people, or use food banks.

The surveys contain questions to determine who uses the food assistance, including details of family size, sources and amounts of income, the family members' ages, housing situation, health, whether they get food stamps or participate in other food programs, where they shop, where they get their meals.

The results are tabulated and published in a report that provides analysis and recommendations. The past three surveys provide interesting insights, though not very surprising. The main condition leading to hunger is poverty.

The last three studies for Alameda County, conducted in 1993, 1997 and 2001, all show that over 70 percent of the people receiving food assistance have incomes below the poverty level. This means that they have to make choices between paying for food, housing, utilities, medical care and other pressing bills; and often something must be left unpaid.

Most of the families' incomes come from public assistance programs; but there is a significant number - in 2001, it was 37 percent - of households in the survey that actually had one adult who was employed. In nine percent of the households, there were two working adults.

A really heartbreaking finding is the number of children involved. In the three surveys, 39 percent, 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively, of people receiving food assistance were children under 18. In many families, there are days during the month when the children actually go hungry.

The hunger surveys found that, in 1997, only 37 percent of the people interviewed got food stamps; and in 2001, that number decreased to 21 percent. Yet it is estimated that 80 percent have household incomes low enough to qualify for the program -- and more than two-thirds of them are employed. Even among those who receive food stamps, 90 percent say that they don't carry them through the entire month.

Yet while many people go hungry, there is plenty of food around. This startling fact has been stated in many different ways; but essentially, it is a problem of distribution. Just look in the dumpsters behind any market and the quantity and even the quality of discarded food can be overwhelming.

Allison Pratt, the advocacy and education coordinator for the Alameda County Community Food Bank, has a background in economics. She explains, "It is not a supply problem. We have enough food to feed people. The problem is that people have lost their entitlement to that food. And I don't think that's right."

Pratt points out that given the usual way the market works, the supply is there but many people don't have sufficient income to purchase the food they need. Then the food that people can't buy gets thrown out or goes to food banks and other agencies. The Alameda County Food Bank alone distributes 12 million pounds of food per year! Pratt estimates that they are providing food to 120,000 people each month.

The Hunger Survey reports contain a set of recommendations to help alleviate this rise in hunger. The recommendations would require some fundamental changes in the political climate - living wage jobs, affordable housing, assistance for those who cannot work.

A few more immediate remedies call for making sure more food is available to people who need it by examining the food bank services and helping more people access existing government programs such as the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program, school lunches, summer meals for children, and food stamps. None of these programs are reaching all the people who are eligible.

The food stamp program is particularly underutilized; and, even when families receive food stamps, they are inadequate to stave off hunger for the entire month. Because of public pressure, the applications have been somewhat simplified, but it is still a horrendously complicated process. Only very recently has the ban on food stamps for drug felons who have already served their terms been eliminated; and many people still have not been informed.

California requires that people be fingerprinted to apply for food stamps. Allison Pratt of the Food Bank has been very active advocating in Sacramento for reforms. Speaking of the fingerprinting requirement, she says, "California is one of the very few states that do it. California also happens to be the last in the nation in terms of enrolling people into the food stamp program."

So the food banks try to get and distribute more food, soup kitchens struggle to provide more meals, and people who are close to the problem lobby and advocate for a more adequate government safety net. But judging by America's Second Harvest hunger studies, nothing has changed. Like a cancer lurking inside the body, hunger is invisible. And if the body is not treated, it will be destroyed. Is anybody paying attention?

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