On the Edge of Homelessness: Rural Poverty and Housing Insecurity1


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    This article is based on a paper presented at the meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Columbus, OH, in August of 1991 as part of a panel on “Homeless in Rural America: Causes, Patterns, and Responses.” Field research for the paper was conducted in upstate New York in 1990–1991 under a grant from the Ford Foundation through the Aspen Institute's Rural Economic Policy Program.


Abstract Homelessness in rural America is a problem hardly recognized, little understood, and only minimally studied by rural sociologists. This article, based on long-term field research in upstate New York, sets the problem of rural homelessness in context, explains the increase in rural poverty that puts more people at risk of homelessness, and examines some trends in rural housing that reduce the ability of poorer residents to secure adequate shelter. The nature of housing insecurity and the strategies poor rural people use to keep themselves from becoming literally homeless are noted. Interviews and questionnaires conducted among insecurely-housed low-income people and interviews and records supplied by agencies and institutions serving the poor provide the information on which arguments are based. The conclusion is that the definition of homelessness should be broadened for rural usage to encompass poor people on the edge of or at high risk of homelessness; also, programs to assist the homeless and prevent homelessness must be appropriate for rural situations.