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  • The Center for Rural Homelessness

The Purpose of the Center for Rural Homelessness

By Jarrett James Lash

April 02, 2023


The Center for Rural Homelessness (CRH) is the result of conversations held between myself and its Co-Founder, Sean Small. In my day job, I have the pleasure of conversing with local officials and nonprofit leaders from communities across the country to discuss their desires to expand homeless program operations, most closely tied to the availability of housing and shelters. Each evening, I review news articles from around the country discussing homelessness, shelter spaces, and affordable housing. Years of conducting this process outlined a recurring phenomenon: much of the data and research being presented regarding homelessness was synthesized from research conducted in major metropolitan areas and extrapolated in an effort to best describe the acute situations of individuals experiencing homelessness in rural parts of the United States.


Federal policy plays a crucial role in approaches to tackling homelessness nationwide through funding opportunities. While communities may have access to local or state homeless funding programs, the cornerstone of homeless funding in the United States remains vested in the hands of the federal government. One such example is the HUD Continuum of Care (CoC) Program, designed to promote community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness. This is achieved through HUD funding to nonprofit organizations and state and local agencies. As federal policy outlines CoC-funded project performance and regulatory compliance guidelines, local service providers must orient their strategies to reflect the goals of the current Administration. However, a recent poll suggests that some Americans may believe that the responsibility to decrease homelessness isn’t vested first-most with the federal government.


A recent Grid/Harris Poll found that “forty-two percent said [homelessness] should be handled at the local level, while only 14 percent said the federal government should take the lead, with 26 percent saying it’s up to each state’s government.” Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow, Stephen Eide, said, “They [local governments] find it very frustrating that they know the public looks to them first, and yet they feel like they don’t have the powers to adequately respond.” Eide researches social policy questions such as homelessness and mental illness.


Many rural communities have thinly stretched resources across large geographic areas. In many states, rural areas are grouped into one “Balance of State” CoC, meaning that the geographic area comprising the CoC can extend hundreds of thousands of square miles. The confluence of difficulties presented often results in unhoused individuals in rural America becoming invisible to their community.


So herein lies the situation: while the largest number of Americans polled by Grid/Harris believe that homelessness must be solved at the local level, local officials and nonprofit leaders in rural America are beholden to federal policies developed through data that was mainly extrapolated from major metropolitan areas. Ergo, the Center for Rural Homelessness was founded with the specific interest of filling the current gap in academia and research pertaining to the topic. We believe that there should be a brighter spotlight on the 109 largely rural CoCs and 171 largely suburban CoCs to bring their success stories so that more should be done to uproot the potentially overlooked knowledge and intervention strategies unique to these communities.


We believe in the strength of rural communities across America and believe in a future where communities can attain a functional zero homelessness. Our desire is to embolden the conversation and place a spotlight on the heroes providing quality care despite the challenges of identifying, mitigating, and eliminating homelessness in rural areas. As we launch the Center for Rural Homelessness, we want to hear from social service providers and local officials from across the United States. If that’s you, email us at info [at] ruralhomelessness.org so we can arrange a time to learn how we can best serve your organization’s interests.

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