About Rural Homelessness

In rural communities, the scarcity of reliable transportation, meaningful employment, affordable housing, and specialized health care is increasing the risk of poverty and homelessness. Our broad and diverse coalition is working to make housing stability and self-sufficiency possible for everyone in our rural communities.

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America’s small towns and communities are not immune to the problem of homelessness. Advocates and researchers often refer to people who experience rural homelessness as the “hidden homeless.” Many rural homeless people live in places we do not see; they often are sleeping in the woods, campgrounds, cars, abandoned farm buildings, or other places not intended for habitation.

The same structural factors that contribute to urban homelessness—lack of affordable housing and inadequate income—also lead to rural homelessness. Historically, the greatest housing concern for rural Americans has been poor housing quality. Insufficient income, high rates of poverty, and unemployment also lead to rural homelessness.

One of the key differences between rural and urban homelessness is a lower capacity in the homeless service provider infrastructure in rural areas as opposed to urban areas. Additionally, homeless people in rural areas tend to be homeless for shorter periods of time and are less likely to have health insurance and access to medical care. Those who experience rural homelessness report higher rates of alcohol abuse and domestic violence, but lower rates of mental illness and drug abuse than the urban homeless population.

Knowing the Barriers:

There are numerous barriers to serving rural homeless people, including a negligible amount of available affordable housing, limited transportation methods, and that federal priorities and programs tend to be awarded in criteria that favor urban areas. Additionally, because rural areas face persistent poverty, a high number of people are continually at-risk of homelessness.

Due to the aforementioned barriers, one of the most important strategies in ending rural homelessness is prevention. Preventing the occurrence of homelessness is the most economic way of ending homelessness. For communities that have limited funding providing people at risk of homelessness with prevention services, such as paying back rent or utilities and case management, can significantly decrease the number of people moving into homelessness.