Rural Homelessness: Better Collaboration by HHS and HUD Could Improve Delivery of Services in Rural Areas Page: 17 of 59
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data on homeless veterans as part of its annual CHALENG survey, in
accordance with different statutory requirements.21 However, in December
2009, HHS established an agreement with HUD for PATH providers to
move towards reporting under the HMIS. Also, according to HUD officials,
there has been an initial evaluation of aligning some of VA's homelessness
data with HUD's homelessness data.
The varying definitions of "homelessness" and "rural"-as well as the
extent to which "rural" is reported-also limit the ability to understand the
incidence and prevalence of homelessness in rural areas. For example,
according to officials, doubled-up persons are included in some VA and
HHS program definitions but excluded from HUD's definition. Thus, data
on homelessness are captured differently across federal agencies.
Similarly, although our work did not focus on potential reasons for the
different definitions, these differences across federal programs make
comparing the extent of homelessness in rural and nonrural areas difficult.
For instance, HUD's AHAR formally classifies locations into two groups-
principal cities and suburban or rural areas. Specifically, HUD estimates
that about 1.56 million people were homeless in emergency shelters or
transitional housing at some point during fiscal year 2009. More than two-
thirds (or about 1.1 million) of them were located in principal cities, while
one-third (or about 0.5 million) were in suburban or rural jurisdictions.
HHS's RHYMIS and VA's CHALENG do not break out the counts of
homelessness between rural and nonrural areas.
HUD's PIT count is the only data collection effort designed to obtain a
national count of those experiencing homelessness, and while a more in-
depth discussion of the difficulties associated with collecting the data can
be found in our June 2010 report, there are some additional challenges
particular to rural areas.
Persons experiencing homelessness are inherently difficult to count. They
are mobile, can seek shelter in secluded areas, and may not wish to attract
the notice of local government officials. Moreover, rural areas are often
large and have widely dispersed populations and difficult-to-reach
locations, exacerbating the difficulties of finding and counting persons
GAO-10-724 Rural Homelessness
21According to VA officials, VA staff, working with community providers in local meetings
and planning processes, collect population based data on homeless veterans and conduct
assessments of local service needs. For more information on statutory requirements, see
Public Laws 102-405, 103-446, and 105-114.
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Rural Homelessness: Better Collaboration by HHS and HUD Could Improve Delivery of Services in Rural Areas, report, July 20, 2010; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc301393/m1/17/: accessed May 21, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.