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Rural Health Information Hub

People Experiencing Homelessness

The National Advisory Committee on Health and Human Services policy brief notes that individuals and families experience homelessness in rural communities, but compared to urban areas, rural homelessness is less visible. There are many challenges to identifying people experiencing homelessness. People experiencing homelessness in rural communities may be living with friends or family, in a car, or in overcrowded or inadequate housing.

Health and human service providers may underestimate the magnitude of homelessness in rural communities. The Social Determinants of Health Topic Guide describes the ways that homelessness can affect the health of rural adults and children.

Many challenges affect the delivery of health and human services to people experiencing homeless in rural communities, including:

  • Lack of visibility. Given that rural communities have a lower population density, people experiencing homelessness may be less visible to health and human service providers.
  • Lack of resources and infrastructure. Rural communities may lack the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. For example, compared to urban areas, rural communities have fewer specialized services, shelters, and trained staff to address homelessness. Limited public transportation, job opportunities, and affordable housing options are additional barriers for rural homelessness.
  • Lack of access. People who are experiencing homelessness may not be able to access health and human services in rural communities, particularly if they must travel long distances to reach these services.
  • Need for family-focused services. The population of people experiencing homelessness in rural communities is comprised of more families than individuals. Therefore, services integration programs must address the needs of children and adults.

The National Advisory Committee on Health and Human Services reports that policies and programs may need to be tailored to meet the needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness in rural areas.

Many rural communities are trying to meet the needs of populations experiencing homelessness through Housing First programs. Housing First programs emphasize the importance of immediately providing housing to homeless populations without asking individuals to first participate in other services or programs. For example, Pathways Vermont is a Housing First program that uses local coordinators to integrate a range of services for clients. Coordinators ensure that clients have access to resources that will help them maintain stable housing, such as primary and behavioral health services and job training.

Resources to Learn More

Rural Homelessness: Identifying and Understanding the “Hidden Homeless”
This article provides an overview of the challenges of identifying rural homeless populations and outlines promising practices in the delivery of services to address rural homelessness.
Author(s): Knopf-Amelung, S.
Organization(s): National Health Care for the Homeless Council
Date: 6/2013

Homelessness in Rural America
This policy brief discusses the state of homelessness in rural America and barriers to providing health and human services to rural homeless populations.
Organization(s): National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services
Date: 7/2014