The poorest of the poor in this country are in for a rough winter. A new study released by the Conference of Mayors says more Americans requested emergency shelter and food assistance this year.

The study, which surveyed 26 cities, found that the number of families experiencing homelessness rose an average 9% while the number of unaccompanied individuals experiencing homelessness rose by 2%. Meanwhile, requests for emergency food assistance jumped an average 24% over last year.

This increase comes at a time when cities are struggling to survive financially and have had to cut some programs because of budget shortfalls. The combination of an increased demand and funding cuts has limited space available at city shelters, putting thousands of homeless people at risk of hypothermia and death.

The annual assessment, found that 58% of the cities analyzed showed an increase in family homelessness. To break down the numbers further, on any given night, more than one thousand family members are living on the streets of these 26 cities, 11,000 are in emergency shelters, and more than 15,000 are staying in transitional homes.

Many of these families are suffering because of unemployment, while 20% cite low wages as the reason for their homelessness. They made too little to afford to pay the rent, heating, and electric. With social services drying up due to budget cuts, more families have been forced out of their homes and into the street.

Nearly 80% of the households with children stated that unemployment was to blame for their situation while 72% reported that lack of affordable housing as being the issue.

The mayors note the irony that that thousands of foreclosed homes sit empty while thousands of families go homeless.

Here's a thought. What if Washington put its muscle behind housing reform similar to what it did with health reform? Just as all Americans will be required to have health coverage, no American shall go without a roof over his or her head.