Rural Veteran Homelessness

It’s been a strange time this week, as while I’m packing up my university position, my VA position is chugging along. Yesterday I present some of my VA research on rural homelessness.

The presentation was part of a webinar on rural homelessness that is part of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness among Veterans (i.e., my employer) Homeless Evidence and Research Synthesis (HERS) series. The topic was rural homelessness.

The main message from the webinar was that the rural homeless is one subpopulation about which very little is known. We know that they are less likely to access homeless services than their non-rural counterparts, and thus are more hidden. Qualitative research, as well as anecdotal evidence, elaborates on this, with stories about how homeless persons live in sheds, cars, campsites and other places where they are difficult to locate. One study I came across also found that rural homeless often would not consider themselves homeless, as they had a “home” (shed, car, campsite, etc.) and were not living in a shelter.

My limited research in this area focuses on the extent to which rural homeless are more likely to migrate to more urban areas for services, and thus are more likely to be displaced from their communities. The VA, insofar as they have info on homeless services used by veterans nationwide in one dataset, offers a unique way to explore such patterns. I have a recent article out that did a basic overview of the extent to which homeless veterans migrate to and from particular areas, and am currently following up this study with a more focused look at individual migration patterns related to the onset of homelessness.

Yesterday’s presentation was much more rudimentary, focusing on a comparison of demographic and services use characteristics between homeless veterans who originated in rural (compared to non-rural) areas. While I presented, most of the credit in creating the presentation goes to my colleague Dorota Szymkowiak. The findings were more exploratory than earthshattering, with the most intriguing finding being that about 70% of the homeless veterans from rural areas end up using non-rural homeless services. This supports the displacement hypothesis, but also raises many more questions. A copy of the powerpoint to this presentation is here. Stay tuned.

Stephen Metraux