What we know about rural homelessness (from National Coalition on Homelessness)
1. In rural areas, where there are few or no homeless shelters, the homeless are more likely to live in cars or campers, or with relatives in overcrowded or substandard housing.
2. The definition of a homeless person does not count the person living in rural substandard structures, leaving a portion of those who are homeless in rural areas unidentified.
3. The rural homeless are more likely to be white, female, married, currently working, homeless for the first time, and homeless for a shorter period of time. Families, single mothers and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas. Also, higher rates of domestic violence and lower rates of alcohol and substance abuse are present in rural areas.
4. Rural homelessness is a result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing. Trying to find housing that is both safe and affordable is a problem in rural counties, because while rents are lower, wages are too.
5. One of the most important strategies in ending rural homelessness is prevention.
The lack of homeless shelters in most rural towns and counties may give the wrong impression. Homelessness in rural America simply looks different than it does in urban areas. While higher concentrations stand outside church basements and temporary nightly shelters in downtown USA for all who drive by to see, the rural homeless are far more likely to be isolated, hidden, and voiceless.
Pattie McGurk with Catholic Social Services, along with two Americorps volunteers, in Great Bend is attended training in Dodge City Wednesday morning, in preparation for the statewide Point in Time Homeless Survey that will take place during the last ten days of January, 2013.
The three will organize and train volunteers in Barton County in the coming weeks to help administer the survey. This is the first time that Barton County and several other rural counties in Western Kansas have been involved in the data collection the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires in order to provide funding to the Kansas Continuum of Care program that works to end homelessness throughout the state.
The PIT Survey volunteers will identify and interview unsheltered homeless people throughout the county to determine where they will have spent the night on January 23
“Volunteers will go to places like the library, Walmart, laundry mats etc., where people might hang out during the day when they have no home to go to,” McGurk said. “Information from rural counties will be extrapolated for other counties that are not counted.”
Catholic Social Service will enter the data to be used by the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition for the final report to HUD.
Prior to 2004, rural counties were not represented in the annual counts, and little was known about the causes of homelessness in these areas. Likewise, little was known about how to assist the homeless or the causes of rural homelessness. Eight years later, there is still a wide gap in the knowledge available about this problem.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “Efforts to end rural homelessness are complicated by isolation, lack of awareness, and lack of resources. Helpful initiatives would include broadening the definition of homelessness to include those in temporary and/or dilapidated facilities, increasing outreach to isolated areas, and increasing networking and awareness on a national level. Ultimately, however, ending homelessness in rural areas requires jobs that pay a living wage, adequate income supports for those who cannot work, affordable housing, access to health care, and transportation.”
According to Amanda Garcia at the Healing Hearts soup kitchen in Great Bend, the number of homeless people that are served there is on the rise. They include families that live in cars, and also people who live in unsheltered areas just outside the city and along the Arkansas River. Healing Hearts not only provides a hot meal to whoever is in need, regardless of housing or income status, they help those coming out of homelessness to get a new start by donating household items and clothing as needed. They are also offer a limited amount of rent and utility assistance, which for some can make the difference between staying in their homes or becoming homeless.
To volunteer or to get more information, please call the Catholic Social Service office at 620-792-1393.