Rural Homelessness

12th October
written by Steve Berg

Earlier this week I had the honor of attending a planning session in Bloomsburg, Pa., sponsored by the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance and Bloomsburg University. The session kicked off planning in the two rural counties around Bloomsburg. It was an opportunity to review some of what we know about homelessness and how to approach it in rural and small-town America.

For years, the Alliance has done deliberate work to focus on rural communities. Homelessness is often thought of as an urban problem, and of course most homeless people are in cities. But homelessness definitely exists in rural areas as well. The impacts of rural homelessness are just as devastating to those experiencing it, while rural areas are less likely than cities to have programs specifically designed to help homeless people.

Rural communities seeking to end homelessness need the same broad categories of change as cities, although they will take different forms. Rural communities need a clear consensus on the goal, as well as commitment from the entire community and a sense of urgency about solving the problem. Rural communities also need a way to monitor progress and effectiveness in addressing the issue, and enough resources to get the job done.

That being said, there are a number of challenges that are unique to rural areas:

  • The scale of the problem of homelessness in rural areas is limited, compared to urban areas, which means that extensive programs specific to homeless people are unlikely to exist. Many rural areas have no shelter at all, and homeless people often must live outside or in cars or abandoned buildings. Doubling up is common, as it is in urban areas.
  • Progress will require that mainstream antipoverty programs take a leadership role. Mental health agencies and TANF agencies are often the key leaders on solving the problem of homelessness.
  • There is often no particular person or agency that is an easy fit for the task of developing and monitoring the implementation of a plan to end homelessness. Where it works, this role may be filled by a particular county official, a faith or business leader, an educational institution, or an influential volunteer.
  • Coordination is especially important. Progress will rely on a set of people for whom addressing homelessness is only part of their job duties.
  • A range of housing options will need to be considered. Typical urban apartment buildings are often not where most lower-income people live. There may be no expertise to back up a housing development strategy.
  • Working with state government is particularly important. Many of the federal resources designed for rural areas flow through the state.

In many rural communities, the idea of rapid re-housing is a natural fit. People working in human services have the attitude that someone who loses their housing should receive immediate help finding new housing, and they will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

I’m happy to say that everyone who attended the session in Bloomsburg was devoted to aggressively tackling these challenges , as many people in rural communities around the country are also doing.

The Alliance already has a number of useful resources on the Rural Homelessness Section of our website that people working to end homelessness in rural communities will want to investigate.

13th August
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Edward J. SanFilippo, Youth Policy Fellow for the Alliance.

Over the last few years, host homes have gained traction as a means of housing youth experiencing homelessness in rural areas. Host homes entail a formalized, mutual agreement between a community member and a service provider. The community member provides shelter, food and sometimes transportation for youth, while the provider delivers case management services. Community members typically receive a small stipend and undergo training and background checks.

One of the great strengths of host homes is their flexibility, since communities can adapt the model to fit localized needs and budget limitations:

Example 1

The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) initiated the Rural Host Home Demonstration Project to serve youth who live in rural areas not served by shelter facilities. In this program, youth under age 18 can receive:

  • Shelter for up to 21 days;
  • Transportation;
  • Counseling;
  • Assistance staying connected to their school; and
  • An aftercare plan with continuing support upon exiting the program.

Example 2

Youth Advocates of Sitka, Inc., in Sitka, Alaska, implemented a resource home program through their Transitional Living Program (TLP). Youth up to age 21 can receive:

  • Housing for up to 18 months;
  • Active resource parent involvement through age 18;
  • Mentoring to develop independent living skills through age 21;
  • Counseling and case management; and
  • Access to housing vouchers and affordable housing.

Resource homes receive:

  • A stipend of $30 per day per child; and
  • Extensive training opportunities, including open invitations to staff training sessions.

The benefits of host homes are significant:

  • They are more economical
    • No physical facility needed
    • Cost savings of paying ‘resource/host parents’ rather than extensive support staff
      • They overcome a local lack of affordable rentals for permanent living spaces;
      • They allow youth to build stronger relationships and interpersonal skills, experience stability in their home life, learn positive life skills that will help them transition to independence, and help motivate them to attain this quality of life in adulthood.

How can your community use host homes for youth experiencing homelessness?

31st March
written by Kim Walker

Today’s post comes to us from Alliance Center for Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of seven different Chippewa bands located in northern Minnesota on developing ten year plans to end homelessness.

It was remarkable to learn about the struggles that many tribal nations face in defining, preventing, and ending homelessness. Tribal leaders share many of the challenges that rural areas face, like serving people spread over a large land area, finding adequate funding, and providing shelter amid a startling lack of housing infrastructure.

But beyond that, tribal homelessness is still unique.

  • Because tribes are officially considered sovereign nations, funding can become complicated or come with limitations that may prove difficult to overcome (i.e., some funding may be unavailable to tribes unless they are able to become an incorporated non-profit).
  • Additionally, homelessness, or near homelessness, on a reservation looks different than what people might expect. The Wilder Survey, one of the most comprehensive surveys of tribal homelessness, found that many Native Americans living on reservations are doubled up for long periods of time, often moving from one doubled up situation to another as long as that’s sustainable. Street homelessness is less common, meaning homelessness is less visible. Even the term “homeless” can cause confusion on a reservation, as the land itself is often considered a “home” for all tribal members.
  • Tribes may also struggle in gaining attention for this issue from external sources. Although they share common concerns, it can be difficult to build a coalition when reservations have such distinct cultures and are often times far away from each other.

For a community that has long been overlooked my mainstream American culture, it’s disheartening to hear that even with this issue – an issue confronting all Americans – we continue to neglect this important part of our national community.

So what can we do? I think the most important thing is to educate ourselves about these issues – helping end homelessness for one population ultimately means improving our ability to end homelessness for all. A good start is reading the 2006 Wilder Survey on the topic.

5th November
written by Anna Blasco

Homeless group

News stories from across the country this week seemed to point to a growing epidemic of youth homelessness.

In New Hampshire a letter to the editor (aptly) titled “In Claremont, 1 in 10 kids is homeless – Is New Hampshire really okay with that?” called for more funding for youth programs. Headed out west, in Green Bay, WI another piece reports a 20 percent increase over last year in the number of school-aged kids experiencing homelessness.

How can we let this happen? I think most people agree that youth homelessness is a problem that just plain shouldn’t exist.

It’s time to take action. Unfortunately, there is just not enough data on youth homelessness – and we can’t solve a problem unless we fully understand it.

Luckily (!) we’re here to help! The Alliance president, Nan Roman, along with executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness will hold a webinar on Monday, November 8 at 2 p.m. ET going over strategies to acquire an accurate homeless youth count. We know they’re out there, we know we can help, and now it’s time to figure out how. Join us for our webinar on Monday – register here.

Another buzz topic this week was the prevalence of homelessness in rural areas. Folks in rural North Carolina and North Dakota are proclaiming “Homelessness is here.” The prevalence of rural homelessness can come as a surprise, even to those in the communities themselves. Homelessness in rural areas can actually be harder than homelessness in more urban areas – many rural areas have fewer services and higher rates of poverty than urban areas. This may be one reason that unsheltered homelessness occurs at a slightly higher incidence in rural areas than in urban areas.

Sleeping on the streets anywhere in this country is a horrible experience, but sleeping on the streets of Alaska is becoming increasingly deadly, or so says Sen. Mark Begich. The senator from Alaska reports that 20 people have died while sleeping outside in the last few months; he’s asked the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for help to address the growing problem.

26th October
written by naehblog

HUD has recently posted several resources to help communities implement their HPRP programs. The resources include:

Case studies of seven communities that have implemented homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing programs similar to those that can be funded through HPRP:

These resources and others can be found in the HPRP Resource Library on HUD’s Homelessness Resource Exchange.

Please note that these resources are posted to HUD’s Homelessness Resource Exchange, and they come with the following disclaimer:

All peer-to-peer resources shared on have been provided by the community that developed them. The documents have not been reviewed by HUD or its contractors for applicability, legality, or compliance with Federal statutory and regulatory guidelines. The posting of these documents on is not intended as an endorsement of the documents by HUD or any of its contractors. Please bear in mind that these documents were created by communities based on their specific needs and objectives, and they reflect the local laws and policies of that community. Each community should go through its own process to develop policies and corresponding procedures that are appropriate locally and that are compliant with Federal, state, and local law.


11th September
written by naehblog

This month, we continue to the ongoing Geography of Homelessness series with an issue about the prevalence of homelessness in rural and urban areas.

The Alliance began the Geography of Homelessness series to investigate the popular concept of urban homelessness (and to make use of new homeless information collected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development).

The Alliance began be defining all existing Continuums of Care (CoC) into one of five categories: rural, mostly rural, mixed, mostly urban, and urban. After defining each of the CoCs, we counted up how many were rural, how many were urban, how many were mixed, etc. Ultimately, we concluded – as is explained by the first issue of the Geography series – that 77 percent of those people who were experiencing homelessness were doing so in an urban environment.

In this second issue, we look into the prevalence of homelessness in each of these area types. While it is popularly accepted homelessness tends to be an urban phenomenon, it is also widely known that rural areas have higher rates of poverty, deep poverty, and other characteristics that are commonly associated with homelessness. We try to reconcile these two ideas in this second issue of the Geography series.

The Alliance calculated the rate of homelessness in all the CoCs, counting the number of people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 people in the community.

The Alliance found while the two communities with the highest rates of homelessness were – in fact – rural communities, as a whole, rural communities had about half the rate of homelessness as most urban communities. Thereby, perhaps, adding fuel to the idea that homelessness is concentrated in urban areas.

Above, Meghan Henry – Alliance Research Associate – explains the conclusions from the second part of the Geography series. Fore more information about the Geography series or to read the second issue in its entirety, please visit the website.

28th August
written by naehblog

It seems to be that there’s been quite a hullabaloo about veterans and homelessness lately. Has anyone else noticed that?

Just this week, there were two articles about Secretary Shinseki’s commitment to ending veterans homelessness – one from the AP about veteran homelessness in rural areas and one in the Argus Leader as well.

The Secretary’s message has be gaining momentum this month. Since early August, Secretary Shinseki has promised the American Legion that the country “will end vet homelessness.” He discussed homeless veterans issues in Oregon and in his home state of Hawaii. Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth also carried a similar message on Fox News this week.

The attention is certainly welcome and warranted. Veterans account for approximately one-quarter of the homeless population, and the group exhibits a high incidence of mental illness, substance abuse, and other behavioral disorders.

We at the Alliance are heartened by the renewed commitment to addressing and ending veteran homelessness – and we wholeheartedly agree that it’s not only a social ill long overdue for transformative action, but one that we can fix as a nation.

16th July
written by naehblog

There’s been a lot – a pretty hefty amount – of data collected about the size of the homeless population. I mean, we really have to had it to HUD; there’s been a concerted effort to make sure we have as much information as possible about this social problem.

Less is known, however, about where that population is. Where are they? Where do they sleep? Are they able to access services? Do we really have an accurate count?

So here, at the Alliance, we’ve been taking a good, hard look at geography.

Geography is important. Just ask people about redlining and redistricting and public school systems. It’s why people look for apartments and houses in particular neighborhoods. It’s one reason there are so many people in NYC and SF and LA.

And it’s no less important to the homeless.

Homelessness is often painted as an urban phenomenon, but we know there are homeless people in suburban and rural areas – and we’re fairly sure that they’re experience is different than that of their big city counterparts because of their geography.

But just to be super-sure, we’ve launched: the Geography of Homelessness!

In this monthly series, we’re answering the following questions (not necessarily in this order):

  • Do rural areas have different rates of homelessness than other areas?

  • How do aspects of homeless systems assistance (e.g. funding, beds) vary by geography?

  • Have certain geographic types (e.g. rural, suburban) experienced greater rates of change in their homeless populations than others?

  • To what extent are people experiencing homelessness in urban areas in major cities, as opposed to suburbs or urban areas in minor cities?

  • Do CoCs that have similar homelessness characteristics have other similar demographic characteristics (poverty, unemployment)?

Part One of the series – Defining the Spectrum – defines the parameters of the research and lays out some FAQs: how do we define urban/rural? What’s the baseline scenario? And the like…

Check it out, and don’t forget to tune in to make sure you don’t miss one of our monthly releases.