An Illinois sociologist argues that rural homelessness can look quite different from urban homelessness:
“In rural America … a lot of homelessness is hidden from the community,” said Judi Kessler, associate professor for the department of sociology and anthropology at Monmouth College. In a big city like Los Angeles, “homeless is easily identified and easily spotted.”
As a result, residents conjure up images of the homeless in larger cities, which contrasts sharply with homelessness in rural Illinois…
Instead, some rural homeless people “couch surf” by living with a friend until they are no longer wanted. They then move in with a new friend or into a rundown, low-rent home that may not have proper utilities. This process, while very telling, goes largely unnoticed by the general population.
“I think it’s fair to at least speculate that homelessness is much bigger than is immediately evident to our eyes,” Kessler said
Being homeless in rural America also presents unique challenges, which were discovered last spring by a group of students in Goble’s class who were assigned to produce a documentary on rural homelessness.
The group decided to focus on one person who had some bad luck and was staying at a Monmouth shelter…
Among the problems she faced were the lack of mental health services and public transportation in a town of 10,000 residents. Health services are at least 30 minutes away from the shelter, yet the female didn’t have a vehicle. She also had kids, and child care was hard to come by.
This brings up the issue of the social problem of rural homelessness – if people can’t easily see it, then they don’t know it exists. And if they are unaware, it is hard to motivate people to act. Is there a concerted effort in Galesburg or other rural areas to tackle this issue? How can social services be distributed in rural areas in a way that people could access them on a regular basis or in a time of crisis?
A second thought: how prevalent is rural homelessness? Are there figures from certain areas or across the country? I wonder how many cases of rural homelessness are linked to not knowing anyone in the small community.