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  • The Center for Rural Homelessness

CRH Journal Spotlight: Using Geographic Information Systems to Assess Community-level Vulnerability

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

By Sean Small

Co-Founder, Director of Research

The Center for Rural Homelessness

For The Center for Rural Homelessness’s first Journal Article Spotlight, we have chosen Using Geographic Information Systems to Assess Community-level Vulnerability to Housing Insecurity in Rural Areas by Gleason et al. (2022).

Their exploratory study aimed to map community-level risk factors related to housing insecurity in the State of Maine. Using geographic information systems (GIS) techniques, the authors wanted to expand the way rural homelessness is conceptualized. Specifically, “three methodological choices related to this process were illustrated: (1) selection and distribution of housing insecurity risk indicators; (2) use of location quotients; and (3) use of spatial lags” (Gleason et al., 2022). After examining and mapping selected risk factors in comparison to the location of homeless service supports, four areas in Maine were identified as communities of concern for housing insecurity by the authors.

The authors demonstrate that the use of geographic information systems techniques are potentially useful targets for homeless service and prevention programs. They acknowledge, however, that given the exploratory nature of the geographic needs assessment, a deeper understanding of issues of housing insecurity in these areas is beneficial. Additionally, “taking an ecological approach to understanding housing insecurity in rural areas likely necessitates ‘an extensive period of environmental assessment’” (Gleason et al., 2022; Toro et al., 1991, p. 1209). While adjustment to programmatic and policy solutions for housing insecurity in rural areas is the ultimate goal of the needs assessment, it is not recommended to produce these suggestions without consulting community members (Gleason et al., 2022; Spoth, 1997; Toro et al., 1991).

Of interest, after identifying the four target rural areas (centering around Washington County, Piscataquis County, upper Aroostook County, and Oxford County), the first author, Dr. Gleason, traveled to and spent time in those communities to conducted in-depth interviews with individuals and focus groups, using a case study approach to explore the issue of housing insecurity in these areas (Gleason et al., 2022). Preliminary findings did indeed indicate that these areas have different histories, local cultures, and economic pressures that likely shaped their community-level risk and resilience factors differently (Gleason et al., 2022).

We find the methods used by the authors to be interestingly exploratory and sound; moreover, they point to additional ways rural homelessness community organizations and agencies are able to conceptualize and target unhoused individuals and communities while maintaining their diversity. We highly recommend reading this article in its entirety.

Please reach out to Sean Small at for the full article should your institution not have full access to it.

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