Rural Homelessness: Better Collaboration by HHS and HUD Could Improve Delivery of Services in Rural Areas Page: 2 of 59
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Accountability Integrity* Reliability
Highlights of GAO-10-724, a report to
Why GAO Did This Study
The Homeless Emergency
Assistance and Rapid Transition to
Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009
directed GAO to conduct a broad
study of homelessness in rural
areas. In this report, we provide
information about rural
homelessness issues, based in
significant part on our work in
rural areas within six selected
states. Specifically, the report
addresses the following questions:
(1) What are the characteristics of
homelessness in rural areas? (2)
What assistance is available to
individuals or families experiencing
homelessness and what amount of
funding have the federal
departments and agencies awarded
to organizations that assist persons
experiencing homelessness in rural
areas? (3) What barriers do persons
experiencing homelessness and
homeless service providers
encounter when seeking assistance
or funding to provide assistance?
To address these issues, GAO
reviewed relevant literature,
conducted site visits, and
interviewed agency officials.
GAO recommends that the
Departments of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) and Health
and Human Services (HHS) explore
further opportunities to strengthen
formal collaboration on linking
housing and supportive services to
address homelessness, with
specific consideration for how such
collaboration can minimize barriers
to service provision in rural areas.
HHS and HUD generally agreed
with the recommendation.
View GAO-10-724 or key components.
For more information, contact Alicia Cackley
at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better Collaboration by HHS and HUD Could Improve
Delivery of Services in Rural Areas
What GAO Found
Rural homelessness involves a range of living situations but comparing the
extent of homelessness in rural and nonrural areas is difficult primarily due to
data limitations. Based on GAO visits to six states, persons experiencing
homelessness in rural areas could be living in one of a limited number of
shelters, in extremely overcrowded situations, in severely substandard
housing, or outdoors. While HUD and other agencies collect some data on
homeless populations, several challenges exist in using these data to compare
the extent of homelessness in rural and nonrural areas. They include
difficulties in counting transient populations, limited reporting by service
providers in federal data systems, inconsistent reporting across programs, and
focusing on the segments of the homeless population that the agency serves.
Definitional differences also make comparisons difficult. For instance, the
three most common federal definitions of rural use differing criteria such as
population or proximity to urban areas. Even within one measure such as
population, different agencies can use different parameters and therefore
identify different areas as rural.
A number of federal programs exist to support those experiencing
homelessness in rural areas. Targeted and nontargeted programs fund
permanent and emergency housing and supportive services such as mental
health services, case management, and job training. However, federal agencies
maintain limited data on the amount of homeless assistance awarded to rural
areas, making comparisons with assistance awarded to nonrural areas
difficult. For instance, HUD maintains some data on the amount of homeless
assistance awarded to rural areas through its targeted programs, but the data
are based on providers' identification of locations as rural or not. Nontargeted
programs can serve persons experiencing homelessness but do not track how
much funding is used for homeless assistance. As a result of data limitations
such as these, comparisons of funding levels offer limited insight into the
relationship between the size of the homeless population in an area and the
amount of funding received.
Barriers to accessing and providing homeless services in rural areas include
limited access to services, large service areas, dispersed populations, and a
lack of transportation and affordable housing according to state and local
officials and persons experiencing homelessness in the states we visited. For
instance, many rural areas have few shelters or shelters with few beds serving
very large areas. A program in which HUD provides housing vouchers to
homeless veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs provides clinical
and case management services to these same veterans is one of a limited
number of examples of formal collaboration and leveraging of federal
resources that link housing and supportive services. The effects of limited
collaboration may be particularly acute in rural areas because of the barriers
cited above. Without a more formal linking of housing and supportive services
by HUD and HHS, two of the key agencies for funding these activities, the
effectiveness of federal efforts to address homelessness may be diminished.
United States Government Accountability Office
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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/m1/2/: accessed April 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.