The Rural Homeless: An Empirically Neglected Community

No segment of America’s vulnerable population is as invisible as are the rural homeless. This invisibility, along with other factors, has contributed heavily to this group’s social neglect. Society’s mental image of the homeless is set in an urban context, overwhelmingly represented by unemployed, disheveled men who inhabit street corners or freeway off-ramps. When asked about the homeless, the public conjures up visions of these men going through trash; panhandling; sleeping in shelters, alleyways, or under overpasses; and showing signs of chronic alcohol use, substance abuse, or mental health problems (Bushy, 2000; National Coalition for the Homeless [NCH], 2007).

Albeit in lower numbers, the homeless also inhabit the small towns and country corners of rural America. Even though their demographics, experiences, and ordeals are in contrast to the urban homeless, the rural homeless still suffer from the extreme poverty and unattended health problems common to all homeless individuals. Despite these serious problems, the state of the knowledge about this community is rife with gaps and outdated data. As an example, not even a rudimentary count is available to accurately represent their numbers (Rollinson & Pardeck, 2006).

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
Dimensions in Health: A Sample of Rural and Global Health Issues
United States