Emergency food requests increased in 2016, even as overall homelessness rates continued to decline, according to The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Report on Hunger and Homelessness.

“Forty-one percent of survey cities reported that the number of requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year,” the report noted. “Across the survey cities, emergency food assistance increased by an average of 2 percent.”

Des Moines, Iowa, saw the largest increase in requests (15 percent) while Los Angeles had the largest decrease (9 percent).

“Seventy-one percent of the cities reported an increase in the number of people requesting food assistance for the first time,” the report added. “Forty-one percent reported an increase in the frequency of visits to food pantries and/or emergency kitchens each month.”

Low wages and high housing costs were cited as leading reasons for the increases in food assistance requests.

A mobile food pantry run by Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) – an interfaith group of 125 congregations from four faith traditions – was highlighted as one of the “exemplary programs that respond to hunger.”

U.S. homelessness rates saw a 2.6 percent overall decline from 2015 levels. With a few notable exceptions, the report’s survey cities reflected this trend.

Survey cities had a homelessness rate average of 51 persons per 10,000. This is much higher than the national average of 17 homeless per 10,000 and resulted from significant variation across cities.

For example, Wichita, Kansas, had a low of 11 per 10,000, while Washington, D.C., had a high of 124 per 10,000.

Unsheltered homeless rates were lower than the national average of 31.6 percent, with an average of 24.7 percent across survey cities.

Rates ranged from a low of 3.8 percent of unsheltered persons in Washington, D.C., to a high of 25 percent in Los Angeles.

“Only nine of the study cities had rates of unsheltered homelessness higher than the national average,” the report explained, “but these cities alone account for approximately one of every five people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the country.”

Nashville’s Safe Haven Family Empowerment Program was cited as one of the “exemplary programs that respond to homelessness.”

It began in the mid-1980s as a ministry of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and was the first shelter for homeless families. It merged with another homeless ministry in the city, taking the new name of Safe Haven.

The data is based on responses from 32 cities in 24 states.

The full report is available here.

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