Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Homelessness and housing insecurity rose much more in rural areas than the rest of the nation in the last two years

Rural homelessness looks different depending on where you live. "In Southwest Oregon it looks like a city of under 25,000 residents with nearly 150 people on a waitlist for temporary housing. . . . In Eastern Kentucky, it looks like a severe shortage of affordable housing made immeasurably worse by a natural disaster. . . . For many tens of thousands of individuals and families in rural America, it looks like another anxiety-ridden night," reports by Taylor Sisk and Jan Pytalski of The Daily Yonder. "Nationwide, homelessness rose less than a half percent from 2020 to 2022 but almost 6% in rural communities. The reasons are many and varied."

One problem is the lack of "large-scale development in rural communities; construction costs are often higher and there’s therefore less incentive for private investment," Sisk and Pytalski write. "But some rural communities are rising to the challenge, recognizing that getting people into at least temporary housing is critical to the health and well-being of the entire community." Lance George, director of research and information at the Housing Assistance Council in Washington, D.C., told the Yonder, "They’re incredibly resourceful and ingenious [community organizations] and work on shoestring budgets and get amazing amounts of work done."

Roseburg, Oregon, pop. 23,700, shows community resources in action. "Located on the southern edge of Roseburg’s downtown is the Gary Leif Navigation Center, a shelter that provides a place to sleep and a variety of wraparound services for the unhoused," the Yonder reports. "During the 2023 Point-in-Time Count, 150 people showed up to be counted and another 200 were counted across homeless encampments in the county. . . .The center provides 10 pods that offer an air-conditioned and heated safe environment for individuals to sleep and store their belongings . . . .The shelter’s guests can also cook and store their own food in a communal kitchen in a separate building. . . . An extreme shortage of affordable housing is a primary source of homelessness in Roseburg."

Eastern Kentucky offers another example. "Angela Crase is the director of residential property management for Kentucky River Community Care. She said that in the most recent Point-in-Time Count, they were surprised to document more than 40 unhoused people in Perry County," where Hazard is the seat. "KRCC is a nonprofit community mental health center, part of a network of such facilities the state established in the 1960s after John Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. Today, KRCC provides housing opportunities not only for those with behavioral health issues but anyone in need. . . . KRCC oversees 114 apartments throughout its region."

Phillip Hardin, KRCC’s facilities director, told the Yonder, “The basic premise was that in order to have healthy clients, they had to have a clean, decent, affordable place to live." Crase told the Yonder, “We follow a housing first model. This approach recognizes the need for the most fundamental necessities to be met before addressing substance use, mental health concerns or employment."

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