Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rural Voices magazine focuses March issue on examining solutions to rural homelessness

Rural homelessness remains an often overlooked problem, with 78,085 people in rural areas experiencing at least one night of homelessness in 2015, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of those people, 32,800—42 percent—were people in families and 9,650—11.6 percent—were chronically homeless individuals. Some groups have said rural homeless counts are likely short because they are conducted during January and only count people on the street and in shelters, not those staying with a friend or those who find the money for a hotel on cold nights.

The Housing Assistance Council has focused the March edition of its magazine, Rural Voices, on rural homelessness. "There are broad structural factors that cause homelessness in both rural and urban areas: the lack of affordable housing and employment options, low wages and insufficient services for those who need them," reports the Housing Assistance Council. Rural areas face more unique challenges, such as more substandard housing; transportation barriers that impede access to jobs, services and education; access to affordable housing; higher poverty rates; lack of mental health, child care and health services; and fewer employment opportunities. (Housing Assistance Council graphic)
"Many of the factors that distinguish rural from urban homelessness could, in fact, suggest a path to ending homelessness in rural areas," reports the Housing Assistance Council. "First, there must be continued improvement in the assessment of the size and nature of rural homelessness. Administrative data matching might identify people who are homeless but who, in the absence of homeless programs, receive assistance from other public systems of care (hospitals, mental health services, substance abuse treatment). And enhanced and coordinated counting methodologies could better identify those living outdoors or in places not meant for human habitation."

"The fact that rural areas have relatively less investment in shelters and other temporizing measures can, in some places, allow more flexibility to spend available funds to help people escape homelessness immediately," reports the Housing Assistance Council. "Funds could be used to more directly house people who become homeless, employing the 'rapid rehousing' model, thus eliminating the need for shelters where none exist. As the number of literally homeless people decreases, rural areas could use improved data to enhance their ability to predict who will become homeless, and invest more resources in prevention by providing services that help people maintain housing and increase housing affordability."

Another problem is that federal funds often go to stop chronic homelessness, which is more of a problem in urban areas than rural ones, reports the Housing Assistance Council. "While rural communities as well as urban areas should be accountable for meeting standards for effectiveness and reaching the worst-off residents, more flexibility would be helpful when it comes to assigning federal homeless funds to support programs and services that meet their particular needs."

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