Cities in Need

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WASHINGTON: It may be a disappointing holiday season thus far for retailers, but for those providing emergency food and shelter, business is booming. According to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, requests for such assistance are especially urgent.

In the 29 cities the Conference has been watching since 1985, demand for emergency food rose an average of 16 percent this year the largest increase in four years. People are going hungry, it appears, because more of their wages are going to cover housing costs, which are on the rise.

The good news is that the requests for emergency housing went up by just 3 percent last year, but the not-so-good news is that most of those requests had to be turned down. That's because there are less shelter beds available ironically, 3 percent less. And many of the homeless just aren't bothering with shelters any more, which accounts for the small increase in housing requests. "The word is out that emergency shelter is not an option that a needy person can depend on," said officials in St. Paul, Minn. Two thousand years on, and it seems there's still no room at the inn.