Urban versus rural homelessness

% of Total HomelessWhen you picture the homeless, where do you picture them? Most likely you envision them in a major city scene, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The Alliance believes that most people think homelessness is an urban phenomenon and ignore that there is also a noteworthy homeless population in rural areas. 

In a recent study on the geography of homelessness, the Alliance said this misconception is a result of media exposure and the presence of the homeless on the streets of major cities. They add:

“…while homelessness in urban areas tends to be more visible, areas outside of urban centers are also affected by homelessness. The same structural issues that cause homelessness in cities – unaffordable housing and low incomes – exist in rural areas, and contribute to the number of people who are homeless in those areas.”

This seems logical to us: the contributors to homelessness we’ve been talking about exist across the United States (though they are likely stronger in some places than in others), so of course homelessness can happen anywhere. 

In this study, the Alliance reported homeless statistics from Continuums of Care (CoC), administrative geography units that facilitate where federal homeless funding is awarded. CoCs can range in size from one city to a state, with 457 total CoCs in the United States and District of Columbia as of 2007. After categorizing these CoCs into urban, rural, urban-rural mix, mostly urban, and mostly rural, the Alliance gathered the information below:

The distribution of the estimated 671,859 people experiencing homelessness in the United States is overwhelmingly urban in orientation…almost 77 percent of people experiencing homelessness were counted in urban CoCs…Conversely, the number of people experiencing homelessness who were counted in rural or mostly rural CoCs account for only 7 percent of the total number of homeless people in the United States.”

Based on the information the Alliance has gathered so far, we think it is safe to assume that homelessness is still most prevalent in urban areas (Orlando included!). We are, however, interested to hear what the Alliance reveals next. In their series on the geography of homelessness, they plan to answer question like:

• Are members of subgroups (such as families, unsheltered, chronically homeless) counted in certain geography types more than others?
• How do aspects of homeless assistance systems (including emergency capacity beds, transitional housing capacity, funding levels, and unmet needs) vary by geography?
• Do CoCs of the same geographic type share other economic characteristics such as poverty rates and levels of housing affordability?

If this subject interests you like it does us, be sure to check out National Alliance to End Homelessness website and blog.