Salt Lake City can take pride in that it takes the issue of hunger seriously so much so the community has sufficient resources so that no one is turned away at food banks.
Yet, Salt Lake food banks report a rise in the numbers of families with children requesting food. This phenomena has "stretched resources more than usual during the year," according the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual report released on Monday. Struggling families are further pinched by housing costs and increases in the cost of food and motor fuel. The number of homeless individuals and unaccompanied youths has increased 3,443 this year over last. However, the numbers of homeless families with children and homeless veterans dropped over the same period of time.
Overall, Salt Lake fares well in the mayors' report. But the report also points out the ongoing nature of the issues of hunger and the homeless, as well as the need for creative approaches that ensure the community meets the poor's basic needs. One Utah program highlighted in the report was the Kid's Cafe, the Utah Food Bank's program that provides weeknight dinners to youths who qualify for reduced-price or free school lunches and breakfasts. The program provided nearly 101,400 meals last year.
Again, Salt Lake City and the state of Utah have been innovators in assisting the less fortunate. But long-term solutions to hunger and homelessness are far more complex than occasional contributions to the food bank or nonprofit agencies that assist the homeless. People need education and job training that enable them to be self-sustaining for a lifetime. There needs to be more affordable housing so people don't have to choose between food in their bellies and a roof over their heads, let alone what they might do in the event of a medical emergency.
Although Salt Lake City has made remarkable strides in assisting its hungry and homeless, it is easier to do so in times of plenty. Now, the recent spike of home foreclosures nationwide and the higher cost of living is pressing the economy overall. Some states are predicting lean budget years, although Republican state lawmakers in Utah are contemplating a $90 million cut in property taxes.
Before lawmakers cut too deeply, they should be mindful of the ways they can further ensure that more Utahns can be helped onto the road of economic self-sufficiency. While Utah can be proud of its successes, hunger and homelessness are chronic problems that will require ongoing attention and long-term solutions. Getting effective results will require intensive planning and significant resources.