At TalkPoverty, my former student Zachariah Oquenda discusses his own experience with rural homelessness. The conclusion:
My family’s experience isn’t unique. On any given night in 2015, 32,800 Americans in rural familiesexperienced homelessness. What’s more, the practical challenges of counting homeless people in rural areas means we may be underestimating the true size of the rural homeless population.
Structural issues—such as higher poverty rates; inadequate transportation; and limited access to shelters and services like health, mental health, and child care—make people and families who live in rural areas particularly vulnerable. This helps explain why rural homeless families are disproportionately likely to go without shelter: in 2014, rural families accounted for 15.7 percent of all homeless families, but almost 27 percent of all unsheltered homeless families (families without access to service shelters who usually live in cars, in tents, or on the street).
The rural housing crisis is not intractable. Policymakers should start by improving data collection on rural homelessness, so that they have a complete picture of the issue. They should also increase efforts to document and reduce discrimination in renting, and improve access to affordable legal services so that families stand a fighting chance when they risk losing their homes. To support the families who become homeless,
Policymakers should improve accessibility to shelters and other services in rural areas. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should reinstate Section 515 grants to build more affordable rural rental housing, and increase the direct loan program funding under USDA Section 502 to provide more assistance for rural homeowners.
These reforms are only possible if we choose to accept housing as a meaningful right for all Americans. Then, campgrounds could remain mainstays of family vacations—not crisis centers for homeless families.