Monday, December 09, 2013

Rural homeless are less visible, writer reminds us

Sid Salter
While the rate of homelessness in rural areas is about the same as in urban areas, urban homeless are often visible on the streets, while many rural homeless people are out of sight, living "in the woods, campgrounds, barns, vehicles or abandoned or substandard housing not truly meant for habitation," writes Sid Salter, a contributing columnist for the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

The rural homeless problem is a real one, and hard to define precisely Salter writes: "Counting homeless people, like counting immigrants or others who are distrustful of authority figures, is an incredibly inexact science," and the counts by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are probably low. "Of the 2,403 Mississippi homeless identified by HUD . . . 501 are in emergency shelters, 582 are in some temporary traditional housing and 1,320 are 'unsheltered.' The worse news about homelessness in Mississippi is that it is exacerbated by poverty, and Mississippi remains the poorest state in the union."

Of Mississippi's 2,403 homeless, HUD classifies 475 "as 'chronically homeless.' Another 230 of our homeless are 'severely mentally ill.' Another 498 of the state’s homeless are listed as engaging in 'chronic substance abuse' while another 230 of them are veterans," Salter writes. "It seems the problem of homelessness is somehow more depressing and hopeless during the holiday season. That’s why many very noble efforts to provide holiday meals and toys for underprivileged children find success at this time of year. But the truth is that poverty, homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse threaten Mississippi families all year long and require not merely the generosity of the holidays but a place at the table of public-policy debate." (Read more)

In the U.S., "There are approximately 14 homeless people on average for every 10,000 people in rural areas, compared with 29 homeless people out of every 10,000 in urban areas," according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. "The same structural factors that contribute to urban homelessness—lack of affordable housing and inadequate income—also lead to rural homelessness. Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of rural homelessness, however, is access to services. Unlike in urban areas, many rural homeless assistance systems lack the infrastructure to provide quick, comprehensive care to those experiencing homelessness. Reasons for this difference abound, including lack of available affordable housing, limited transportation methods and the tendency for federal programs to focus on urban areas." (Read more) (American Almanac graphic: Rural homeless in shelters)

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