Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 9

Running

head: Homelessness in Rural Areas

Homelessness in Rural Areas


Hannah Ward
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Homelessness in Rural Areas


2
Introduction

Today the problem of homeless people is rather a pressing one, and unfortunately it is
widespread all over the world. Throughout history there has always been a substantial segment
of the population living in less than ideal living situations. According to The Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless
people in the United States (Quigley, 2015). Most people are spending the night in homeless
shelters or in some sort of short-term traditional housing. Slightly more than a third are living in
cars, under bridges, or in some other way living unsheltered. It would seem that during this
century of abundance, there should not be anyone living without food or shelter. Unfortunately,
there are millions of people that go without a proper place to sleep every night. There are several
contributing factors that lead to homelessness such as: poverty, mental illness, inadequate
housing, low income, and unemployment. Homelessness is often framed as an urban policy
issue. Homelessness in rural America has seen far less attention than urban homelessness. Large
numbers of visibly homeless people in metropolitan areas have caused many people to assume
that homelessness is primarily an urban problem. However, it is a present and important issue for
many rural individuals, families, service providers, and communities. It is first important to
address the definition of homelessness and those most susceptible.
Homelessness in Rural Areas
HUD, defines homelessness in three categories: individuals and families who lack a
regular and adequate nighttime residence or who have lived in an institution where he or she
resided for less than 90 days; individuals and families who will soon lose their nighttime
residence; and individuals who are fleeing or attempting to flee from any form of violence
(2013).

Homelessness in Rural Areas


Understanding homelessness among rural populations requires a more flexible definition


of homelessness. In rural areas, there are very few shelters so people experiencing homelessness
are more likely to live on the streets, camp outdoors, or live in cars and abandoned buildings.
These type of people are referred to as the unsheltered homeless because they lack proper
shelter. The second form of homelessness is an individual who is sheltered, meaning he or she
resides in some form of shelter or doubled-up (temporarily staying with friends or family). The
National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human services, believes that rural homeless
individuals and families are more likely than urban homeless individuals and families to be
doubled-up with friends or families, living in vehicles, or living in substandard housing (Quigley,
2015). Nationally, the 2013 Homelessness Point in Time Count identified 610,042 homeless
individuals on a given night in January. Of those, 394,629 were living in shelters and 215,344
were living in unsheltered locations (Homeless in Rural America, 2014). The homeless
population is diverse, no longer consisting of primarily transient adult males. Studies have shown
that people experiencing homelessness in rural areas are more likely to be the following: older
(between the ages 35 and 44), white, women, families with children, currently working,
unemployed, veterans, and the mentally ill. Homelessness among Native Americans and migrant
workers is also more common in rural areas. (Hard to Reach, 2001). The rural homeless
population is made up of more families and fewer individuals. Studies suggest that individuals
experiencing rural homelessness are more likely to be working, more likely to be experiencing
homelessness for the first time, and less likely to be on government assistance (Homelessness in
Rural America, 2014).

Homelessness in Rural Areas


4
Populations Experiencing Homelessness

While research around behavioral health and homelessness among rural populations is
limited, there is growing evidence indicating the likelihood of behavioral health problems among
the homeless population. People with mental and/or substance use disorders can be precariously
housed and particularly vulnerable for homelessness. A person is considered to be experiencing
chronic homelessness when he or she spends more than a year in a state of homelessness or has
experienced a minimum of four episodes of homelessness over a three-year period. In 2014, of
the 578,000 people experiencing homelessness on a single night, approximately 99,000 were
considered to be experiencing chronic homelessness. According to HUDs 2013 Annual
Homelessness Assessment Report, of those who experience homelessness, approximately
257,300 people have a severe mental illness or a chronic substance use disorder. Although those
experiencing chronic homelessness only represents a small portion of the homeless population,
the population consumes more than half of the services intended for the homeless population.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, approximately 30% of people
experiencing chronic homelessness have a serious mental illness, and around two-thirds have a
primary substance use order or other chronic health condition (Treatment for Substance
Abuse). These health problems may create difficulties accessing and maintaining stable,
affordable, and proper housing, especially in rural areas where there is a significant lack of
resources.
In addition to behavioral health problems, veterans are also most susceptible to
experience homelessness at some point in their life. In 2014, almost 50,000 veterans experienced
homelessness on a single night. Among veterans experiencing homelessness in 2013, 50% had a

Homelessness in Rural Areas


serious mental illness, 70% had a substance use disorder, and 74% experienced chronic
homelessness. A large number of veterans who are experiencing homelessness or those at risk,
live with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Veterans and Military Families,
2014). While the general impression is that the homeless are primarily chronic, the fact is that
more than half of the homeless population are families and children. The vast majority of these
have been thrust into homelessness by a life altering event or a series of events that were
unplanned for. Contrary to the belief that homelessness is primarily the result of major traumatic
events or physical and mental disabilities, there are many top causes of homelessness in
America.
Causes of Homelessness
Addressing the needs of homeless people is a daunting challenge because the causes of
homelessness are complex. Homelessness is caused by the shortage of affordable housing,
poverty, low wage work insufficient to pay for basic living expenses, and the lack of services to
help people overcome personal challenges such as mental and physical health problems and
alcohol and substance abuse. Homelessness is, in fact, caused by tragic life occurrences like the
loss of loved ones, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes. Other impairments
such as depression, untreated mental illness, PTSD, and physical disabilities are also responsible
for a large portion of the homeless population. Many factors push people into living on the street.
Acknowledging these issues can help facilitate the end of homelessness in America. Perhaps the
most distinguishing factor of homelessness, is the access to services. Unlike in urban areas, many
rural homeless assistance systems lack the infrastructure to provide quick, and comprehensive
care to those experiencing homelessness. The reasons for this range from lack of affordable
housing, limited transportation, and the tendency for federal programs to focus on urban areas.

Homelessness in Rural Areas


The homeless population in rural areas of the United States differ significantly compared
to those living in metropolitan areas in a number of ways. A major challenge is the inability to
accurately identify and quantify the problem. In big cities, you see the homeless on every corner,
sleeping under bridges or in the park. The rural homeless population find shelter in tents or
campers, vehicles, or abandoned houses. Many are either employed or underemployed, which
makes living difficult. Rural residents have a long tradition of preferring self-help and reliance
on relatives, friends, and neighbors to taxpayer-supported programs, which has effectively
disguised the magnitude of the problem of rural homelessness. Often, the rural homeless
population do not come forward for help because they are ashamed or feel like a burden on
society. Advocates for the homeless argue that the rural homeless are being undercounted for,
which means rural areas are not receiving the appropriate funding and support.
Barriers of Homelessness
Research consistently shows that people experiencing homelessness want to work but,
often can not because of barriers that the homeless population face. Many employers are
reluctant to hire individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness because of the
negative stereotype, such as doubts that the group of people can or want to work, unmotivated
and lazy, and conceptions about their appearance. The homeless population faces a variety of
barriers to employment, including the experience of homelessness itself, plus other obstacles,
such as lack of experience, physical or mental health barriers, and challenges related to re-entry
from incarceration or hospitalization. With the right blend of support, individuals can overcome
their personal barriers to do so successfully. Diverse tools exist for employment specialists and
service providers to tailor their approaches for individualized jobseekers and workforce needs.
Successful employment interventions can promote not only personal development and healthier

Homelessness in Rural Areas


habits for individuals experiencing homelessness, but also broader goals to prevent and end
homelessness. Another significant barrier that rural homeless individuals and families face is the
lack of transportation. Large distances must be travelled to access resources and services, and
there are usually limited or no public transportation available. In a case where an individual may
need access to health care, it is virtually impossible without public or private transportation. The
absence of transportation also blocks access to getting and keeping a job. Additionally, rural
areas tend to have higher rates of poverty, only compounding the risk of becoming and staying
homeless in those areas. Due to these barriers, one of the most important strategies in ending
rural homelessness is prevention.
Preventing Homelessness
Prevention is the key to reducing the homeless epidemic. Homeless shelters alone will
not prevent it from happening, nor take care of the situation once it has occurred. Shelters are
filled to capacity, and overwhelmed with people needing shelter because they have found
themselves out on the streets. Where there is not much to be done about the economy, and the
loss of jobs across America, other issues can be addressed to prevent a person from finding
themselves homeless. Most help for the homeless is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD). These funds go to the states and are then distributed to local
agencies, based on the population size. HUD sets aside $30 million for a competitive grant to
tackle rural homelessness. But the agency didnt get enough applicants to send money to rural
areas, according to Ann Oliva, director of HUDs Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs.

(Wiltz, 2015). In rural areas, there are fewer continuums of care (CoC), local, community-based
organizations, that are responsible for coordinating aid for the homeless, usually with federal
funding distributed by the states. With fewer CoCs, less homeless people are being helped. Most

Homelessness in Rural Areas


urban areas have a well-developed infrastructure for helping the homeless, with dedicated
funding for programs and an extensive network of providers. (Wiltz, 2015). Homelessness is
preventable in some cases, but not all. With the economy at a standstill, people losing jobs, and
being unable to find work the situation only gets worse. This means a strain on the governments,
taxpayers, and human services to end this growing issue. Currently there are not enough
programs or funding to tend to the overflowing of people seen in homeless shelters, which results
in these people finding shelter on the streets.
Conclusion
People experiencing homelessness come from a wide range of backgrounds. Social
workers should recognize that each persons different experiences, values, and beliefs will
impact how he or she accesses homeless services. Being aware of a persons cultural values of
treatment and service providers have an important effect on how service are delivered and
accessed. As a social worker, meeting people where they are geographically or emotionally, is
the essence of effective outreach to people experiencing homelessness and the pathway to
engaging them in treatment and services. Rather than expecting people to access service on their
own, social workers are a helping hand to walk with people and find the services they need.

Homelessness in Rural Areas


9
Bibliography

Quigley, B. (2015, January 18). 10 Facts About Homelessness | Economy In Crisis. Retrieved
March 07, 2016, from http://economyincrisis.org/content/10-facts-about-homelessness
Homelessness in Rural America. (2014, July). Retrieved March 10, 2016, from
http://www.hrsa.gov/advisorycommittees/rural/publications/homelessnessruralamerica.pdf

Hard to Reach: Rural Homelessness and Health Care. (2001, October). Retrieved March 6, 2016,
from https://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/October2001HealingHands.pdf
Chapter 3. Integrate Treatment for Substance Use Disorders into Mainstream Health Care and
Expand Support for Recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from
https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/chapter-integrate-treatment-for-substance-use-disorders
Veterans and Military Families. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from
http://www.samhsa.gov/veterans-military-families

Lewis, M. L., Scott, D. L., & Calfee, C. (2013). Rural Social Service Disparities and Creative
Social Work Solutions for Rural Families Across the Lifespan. Journal Of Family Social Work,
16(1), 101-115. doi:10.1080/10522158.2012.747118