Economics/Class Relations

Homelessness crisis hits rural communities

The images are hard to ignore: ratty, rodent-infested, tarp tents crammed together on public sidewalks next to piles of trash, human excrement, and used condoms. That’s the daily snapshot from Los Angeles’s Skid Row.

Similar scenes have unfolded across dozens of large cities in the United States, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Atlanta, where 2,000 people sleep on the streets every night.

THE CITY OF WILTING ROSES

Homeless advocates, lawmakers, and nonprofit organizations have rushed in to address the problem, giving impassioned speeches, putting up affordable housing, and opening up their pocketbooks for the cause.

But as resources pour in to tackle the crises in larger cities, rural communities, which lack funding and manpower, are often left to fend for themselves.

California Homeless Mental Health
Tents line the streets of the Skid Row area of Los Angeles Friday, July 22, 2022.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

“Rural homelessness is much different than what you find in urban areas,” said Merritt Moore, West Virginia’s statewide PATH coordinator. “In a city, you may encounter someone who is homeless when you round a corner, when you get off a subway. There are more emergency shelters and more feeding stations. Rural areas have fewer resources for people experiencing homelessness and fewer communal areas where we can provide and obtain information.”

Whether it’s a big city or a tiny town, the causes of homelessness are universal. Poverty, mental illness, inadequate housing, substance abuse, and domestic violence all play a role. Rural areas have the added burden of being cash-strapped and have limited access to public transportation, making it nearly impossible for the homeless to seek treatment, apply for jobs, get medical care, or obtain housing vouchers. The lack of investment in rural areas has also complicated the problem.

Another problem is stigma, Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at National Alliance to End Homelessness, told the Washington Examiner. 

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