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  • The Center for Rural Homelessness

Rural Homelessness in West Virginia and Point-in-Time Count

Emelia Gapp

Strategic Communications Intern

The Center for Rural Homelessness

This past January, organizations across the nation conducted the point-in-time count, counting the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on a single night. This information is used to determine how much the government should aid homelessness in a particular area. Zachary Brown, CEO of West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, says that West Virginia’s rural homelessness numbers have gone up significantly since the last point-in-time count conducted prior to the pandemic.

“The most interesting thing that's happened in this most recent point-in-time count is something that I've never seen in my entire career in that we have an anomalous number of people who are out on the street in super rural counties.” he states.

Brown claims that usually homelessness tends to be concentrated in more populated communities and very sparse in rural areas. This poses the question of how to target this issue alongside the issue of urban homelessness.

“You know, almost always the PIT there's a smattering of people that are out in the reliable rural places and then by a large, the numbers are greater in the populated areas.This year, and I've never seen this, upwards of in some cases 20 or 30 people outside in counties where there's just not that many people, and there is no shelter there. This has led us to kind of take a step back. It's blown through a lot of our assumptions because having limited staff and limited subsidies, you're always playing the game of ‘what do I target’?” Brown says.

According to Brown, unhoused people in the state of West Virginia tend to make their way to populated areas that have more accessible shelters. However, these shelters are not as accessible for individuals in more rural areas.

“This makes you question where exactly we need to be doing street outreach because of this anomalous number of people on the street that is happening in areas where I would have easily assumed just didn't have many people on the street.”

Brown explains that this spike in rural homelessness numbers may signal the beginning of a huge increase due to the economic issues caused by the pandemic. He also points to the opioid epidemic as a factor.

“Coming out of the other end of the economic issues that COVID caused in a place like West Virginia – we're kind of ground zero for the opioid epidemic to begin with, and COVID Just put more pressure on those issues. It just exacerbated a lot of in my mind, the already kind of obvious weak spots we had as a state. There's a lot of not looking into the problem of homelessness and opioids and what we can do to solve it, but more looking at ‘how can this just magically go away? How do we kick this can down the road?’” Brown stated.

Brown states that the coalition’s goal in the coming years is to take action in the area of housing development. They also hope to provide more healthcare access for unhoused people with specific unmet needs.

“We're working with various partners to come up with the kind of bespoke [housing] units that we need, rather than waiting for the market of housing development to catch up and complaining year after year after year that we don't have enough units. Then, looking at some interesting things like transition care for high-need people that are trimorbid, or have some acute medical conditions, or need some degree of substance use care, physical care, mental health care – places that people can live that are very, very high need, so that we can bring clinical and medical competencies to them. It's almost impossible to get accessible units around here, and we need them all the time. So instead of waiting around, we're just going to start building them.”

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