Citizens still struggle to find food, shelter

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A few weeks ago, CNN reported that America’s separation of wealth had reached the largest divide between the rich and the poor since the era preceding the Great Depression.The divide, and many factors stemming from it, has lead to an increase in the inability of Americans to afford basic things such as food and shelter.

According to Gallup, the number of people who at times lacked enough money to buy food increased between the months of June and August, going up from 17.7 to 20 percent. This was the highest reported percentage since October 2011.

However, for some food pantries, the increase in visits to their facilities began in 2008, the year the recession started. The Greater Chicago Food Depository, for example, has seen a 20 percent increase in visitors since then.

“There was data released in June showing that more than 860,000 people are food insecure,” Paul Morello of the Greater Chicago Food Depository said. “There has been an increase of around 50,000 more people than in previous years.”

The number of those on food stamps has also increased, showing numbers that swelled by 125,059 between May and June, according to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), who manages caseloads and applications of those on food stamps. June participation in SNAP was also up by 1.08 million people from 2012. The recent $39 billion cut to food stamps in a vote passed by the House, 217-210, would affect the lives of nearly 48 million low-income Americans.

The debate on how to help those who are not only food insecure, but also without adequate shelter has varied over the five- year span.

“(The problem) links back to structural factors within our government,” Catherine May, a political science professor at DePaul, said. “It doesn’t mean the individual isn’t to blame, but you have to consider the structural factors that have lead to a rise in homelessness and other problems since the 70s.”

There are more than 630,000 Americans who are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), and the rate is expected to rise after a short decrease in 2012. In Illinois, there was an 11 percent increase in “doubling up”–living with friends or family to save money–between 2010 and 2011. With the gap growing between rich and poor and wages earned, finding housing can prove difficult.

Estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that a full-time worker making minimum wage could “not afford to pay fair-market anywhere in the United States.”

The number of those in shelters has subsequently acclimated with students hit the hardest.

“We know there has been an increase in homeless students,” Eithne McMenamin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said. “(We) have organizers working with the homeless in shelters, and they’ve seen an increase in families seeking help.”

The Illinois Department of Human Services estimates that about 48,000 people are served in state-funded shelters each year, and to afford to live in the state, there must be at least two minimum wage workers in the household.

The root of the problem leads back to the recession and the slow economic growth that has happened since. During the second tax quarter, the economy grew only 2.5 percent, and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent in August. However, the rise in those who are without a home or food continues to climb.