As Rural Homelessness Rises, HUD Aims to Help Those Without Access to Shelters

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development has opened up millions of dollars in funding for groups serving homeless people in rural areas – an unprecedented move by the agency, housing advocates say.

The number of people living in cars, parks and on the streets at night, which the agency calls homelessness, has increased across the country, particularly in urban areas on the West Coast, but areas rural areas of the country are also affected, said a spokesman for the department. said.

Continuums of Care, planning bodies that address homelessness in specific regions, have until Oct. 20 to apply for a portion of $54.5 million earmarked for rural homelessness. HUD could not provide an estimate of the number of organizations that would benefit from this funding, but said 127 of them are eligible to apply. HUD also has $267.5 million in funds available to respond to the homeless homeless population in non-rural areas.

According to the department’s January 2021 report to Congress, 2020 was the first year since it began collecting this data in 2005 that there were more people homeless and homeless than people living in shelters. The report also noted that “largely [Continuums of Care] had the highest percentage of homeless people in unprotected places” at 44%, compared to 39% in continuums of care that include major cities. From 2019 to 2020, there was an 8.3% increase in homelessness across largely rural continuums of care.

Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said housing challenges are different in rural areas. Berg said the problem in rural areas is not always a lack of housing as it is in urban areas, but a lack of safe housing.

“In rural areas, there are homes and many of them are vacant or dilapidated. It’s not well maintained, so it’s substandard housing. If it goes on too long, people just can’t live there safely.

Berg added that the systems in place to tackle homelessness in rural areas also work differently than in urban areas.

“There are no homeless programs in many rural areas. A mostly rural county may get some federal homelessness money, but it’s not enough to really run a program or people’s salaries,” he said. “So in a big city you have a whole kind of system of homelessness programs that deal with different aspects of the problem and are usually overseen by a centralized agency that makes decisions about how funding will be distributed and who will. go to work. None of that really exists in a lot of rural areas.

service deserts

Adrienne Bush, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, said understanding the number of homeless people in rural areas is difficult because of “service deserts” where there are no shelters. or housing programs available to count the number of homeless people.

Bush said there was also a need for more resources for outreach, which looks different in rural areas. For example, it might require going to a state park and walking up and down riverbeds rather than going to a campsite under an overpass.

In 2020, the states with the highest percentages of homeless homeless people were Nevada, Oregon, California, Hawaii, and Arkansas. The lowest rates were in Maine, New York, Nebraska, Massachusetts and North Dakota, according to the 2021 HUD report.

The report also found that the largely rural continuums of care that had the highest percentages of homeless and homeless people were in West Tennessee, including the city of Jackson; Lake County, California; and seven Florida counties: Hamilton, Columbia, Suwanee, Lafayette, Hardee, Highlands and Hendry.

HUD funding will begin to address the challenges described by advocates.

Brenda Gray, executive director of the Heartland Coalition for the Homeless in Florida, whose coverage area includes Hendry, Hardee and Highlands counties, said some of the challenges to preventing homelessness in the region include lack of housing. affordable.

Gray said she hopes at least a few of the six counties served by the Heartland Coalition will be selected for projects. One possible project she considered would be a pilot project in Hendry County for 12 or 13 small homes on one-third of an acre of land.

“We are a small continuum of care and what we really need funds for is a housing specialist. My clients that we’re serving right now — we’re trying to help them as much as possible with finding housing,” Gray said. “But without a housing locator or a housing specialist, there is not much we can do. So what we’re asking them to do is find accommodation, and then we’ll help you access it financially, provided you qualify. Housing specialists and awareness are therefore the most important in my opinion. Because we have a case manager who tries to do everything.

Housing First Policy

Bush said she sees HUD funding as an opportunity for areas that cannot supplement federal dollars with money from their local general fund and tax base like Louisville and Lexington can.

“Some of these small communities, say Hopkinsville, Kentucky, don’t have that luxury and so whatever money they have for homeless services will come from the federal government and will depend on whether or not there is of a local organization that has the ability to request and deliver high quality services with federal funds,” she said. “The state doesn’t top up anything from its general homeless relief fund and that’s sadly true for many southern states.”

She added that one of the things she likes about the funding opportunity is that it encourages projects that have partnerships with housing providers.

“The idea here is to increase [housing] store and streamline the process for people experiencing homelessness to actually access housing,” Bush said.

One of the policy priorities for funding is a “housing first” approach, according to HUD. The ministry says continuums of care should “engage landlords and landlords in identifying an inventory of available housing for rapid rehousing and permanent participants in supportive housing, removing barriers to entry, and adopting service delivery methods that meet the preferences and needs of the individual or family requesting assistance. It also requires Continuums of Care to describe their current owner recruitment strategy and how they would use the data to modify their recruitment strategy.

Leeanne Sacino, executive director of the Florida Coalition to End Homelessness, said in an email that many rural communities are struggling to provide services due to staffing issues caused by low wages. Sacino added that many rural communities in the state don’t even have shelters.

She said HUD funding provides services such as short-term emergency hotel stays, emergency food and clothing, homelessness prevention for those who are behind in payment. rent and things that will help build the capacity of agencies and organizations, such as employee education. , which are generally not available for continuums of care.

HUD funding is just one step toward addressing rural homelessness in the United States. Berg said the department needs a lot more funding from Congress to truly address homelessness in this country.

“They have programs that are well designed to get good results, but they just never get enough funding to really scale up,” Berg said.

For upcoming federal appropriations, the National Alliance to End Homelessness advocates funding of $3.6 billion for HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants and $32.1 billion for the tenant-based rental assistance account.

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