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$6.57 Per Day

by Brenda Kohlmyer

On the way home from a party tonight I stopped at my local Safeway and spoke briefly with a panhandler while on my way out of the store. I handed over the contents of my coat pocket, about 24 cents short of the dollar he’d asked for, and he thanked me and said it was the start of rebuilding after someone had trashed his camp this evening.

76 cents is literally pocket change, but it is 12% of a daily subsistence level food budget. The USDA calculates that a single person in the US needs $6.57 per day to eat three meals, $2.19 per meal. Without the ability to buy in bulk and store dry goods and perishables, the homeless loose substantial ability to leverage their food budgets, but, with careful choices, they can eat within this budget.


With 76 cents, the young man could purchase a cheese stick and a small banana immediately, not a full meal, but enough for breakfast in the morning. That pocket change would also purchase yogurt which is often on sale for 60 cents per serving.

Tomorrow morning, if five people come up with a dollar each he will have enough for lunch and dinner.

If six more people meet his one dollar request, he should have enough to wash and dry the sleeping bag and clothing that were dragged through the mud.

How many requests do you think it will take for him to come up with $11.76 to eat and stay dry tomorrow?

Homelessness & Hunger in Context

This is Snohomish County, half a mile from some of the priciest real estate on Puget Sound and just a few miles north of the King County line where homeless advocates just finished an overnight count of people sleeping in cars and on public property. On a cold, rainy night in Seattle, at least 2,736 people were sleeping outside with minimal shelter against the elements. That represents a 5% increase over the homeless count for 2012. And it represents the easy to find homeless population.

Many of the people in the shelters and tent cities have jobs or they wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the encampments. They make at least some contribution toward their own food budgets. Many of the people sleeping in their cars do too.

All of them qualify for some amount of Supplemental Food Assistance. With the small dollar amount allotted per day, I wonder why so many people harbor animosity toward people using the SNAP program. Would it be better if everyone living in poverty were reduced to standing outside of a grocery store asking for the generosity of strangers?

Using just the numbers from the King County Homeless Count of Thursday, January 24, 2013, 2,736 people in urban and rural neighborhoods need $6.57 each just to eat for one day. That is $17,975 dollars per day to feed the known homeless men, women and children in one American county.

Without the social safety net offered by SNAP, how many individual requests for cash donations do you think it would take for roughly 3,000 severely impoverished people to come up with the $6.57 they need in order to eat every day?