|Charles "Country" Bowers|
(OVR photo by Mary Meehan)
Homeless rural people are more likely to be unsheltered, or sleeping outside or in tents, as opposed to sleeping on someone's couch or in a homeless shelter, Meehan reports. A 2018 Department of Housing and Urban Development report found that rural homeless are more likely to be unsheltered than urban homeless people.
The camps in which unsheltered people often live in can pose serious health threats, since residents rarely have access to clean water and often store and dispose of human waste in unsanitary ways. "Conditions like those contribute to disease, such as the Hepatitis A outbreak which has claimed 58 lives in Kentucky so far and sickened approximately 5,000 people, many of them homeless," Meehan reports. Unsheltered homeless people also risk dying of hypothermia in the winter.
Because rural homeless camps tend to be hidden, many rural officials aren't aware there are homeless people in their communities, Meehan writes. In rural communities that are aware of their homeless population, churches often provide support, but often don't have wherewithal to solve the problem.
|Ohio Valley ReSource map by Alexandra Kanik|
Ginny Ramsey, who runs a shelter called the Catholic Action Center in Lexington, told Meehan that many of the chronically unsheltered homeless are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, and/or addiction that make them reluctant to be around others. The opioid epidemic is making the problem worse, she said: "The safety nets that have been in place, they are leaking, they have always been leaking. Now, they are getting shredded."
Homeless people may have a hard time getting back into housing due to criminal records, and much of the cheapest housing is in unsafe neighborhoods where drug and alcohol use are prevalent, Meehan reports. And rural areas may not have easy access to addiction treatment.