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|About 7 percent of the homeless population lives in rural areas. Access to resources tends to be more limited in rural or mostly rural areas.|
Many people think of homelessness as strictly an urban phenomenon because homeless people are greater in number and more visible in urban areas, but homelessness is also pervasive in rural areas.
Rates of homelessness among rural areas vary widely. According to the Alliance’s Geography of Homelessness report, there are approximately 14 homeless people on average for every 10,000 people in rural areas, compared with 29 homeless people out of every 10,000 in urban areas. Between 2013 and 2014, homelessness in Balance of State (BoS) or statewide Continuums of Care (CoCs), which are typically composed of multiple rural counties, declined by 5 percent, according to Part 1 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
The same structural factors that contribute to urban homelessness—lack of affordable housing and inadequate income—also lead to rural homelessness. Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of rural homelessness, however, is access to services. Unlike in urban areas, many rural homeless assistance systems lack the infrastructure to provide quick, comprehensive care to those experiencing homelessness. Reasons for this difference abound, including lack of available affordable housing, limited transportation methods, and the tendency for federal programs to focus on urban areas.
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.