Wednesday, July 21, 2010

GAO report says feds need to collaborate better to address rural homelessness

A new study commissioned by the Government Accountability Office calls for better collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Health and Human Services to address the unique challenges associated with tackling rural homelessness. "Rural homelessness involves a range of living situations but comparing the extent of homelessness in rural and non-rural areas is difficult primarily due to data limitations," the report's summary says. "Based on GAO visits to six states, persons experiencing homelessness in rural areas could be living in one of a limited number of shelters, in extremely overcrowded situations, in severely substandard housing, or outdoors."

Difficulties in counting transient populations, limited reporting by service providers in federal data systems, inconsistent reporting across programs, and focusing on the segments of the homeless population that the agency serves make comparing homeless populations in rural and non-rural areas difficult, GAO reports. "Federal agencies maintain limited data on the amount of homeless assistance awarded to rural areas, making comparisons with assistance awarded to non-rural areas difficult," GAO writes.

Accessing and providing homeless services in rural areas brought its own barriers, including "limited access to services, large service areas, dispersed populations, and a lack of transportation and affordable housing," GAO reports. Despite these challenge little evidence of collaboration across departments to address them exists. "Without a more formal linking of housing and supportive services by HUD and HHS, two of the key agencies for funding these activities, the effectiveness of federal efforts to address homelessness may be diminished," GAO concludes. (Read more)

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