Rural Communities Need Funding and Support to Address Rural Youth Homelessness
While both urban and rural areas share similar rates of youth homelessness, in rural regions the issue is less visible and less researched. This qualitative study explores the challenges that rural communities in the U.S. face in addressing youth homelessness, the ways they are responding to those challenges, and opportunities to strengthen rural service delivery models. It builds on previous Voices of Youth Count research on rural youth homelessness.
What We Did
We conducted seven virtual focus groups with national and state stakeholders, young adults with lived experience of homelessness, and cross-system stakeholders from five different rural regions. These included 45 participants altogether.
What We Found
- The invisibility of rural homelessness, lack of awareness, stigma, and distrust of public systems make it challenging to identify young people in need of support.
- When young people first needed support they were not aware of the existence of federally-required school-based youth homelessness liaisons.
Services and supports
- Rural communities lack resources for serving youth dispersed across vast regions.
- Rural youth draw mostly on informal supports and are looking for guidance to improve these informal arrangements.
Equity & inclusion
- Youth reported experiencing racism through rural public systems, and two regions reported lacking data to measure disparities.
- Stakeholders from Tribal nations and marginalized communities lack funding to sustain conversations around addressing youth homelessness.
- Rural LGBTQ+ youth lack access to affirming supports.
- While agencies face several barriers to cross-system collaboration, receiving funding at the community level helped facilitate new partnerships in some cases.
- While regions have made some efforts to seek youth input, they have encountered geographic, technological, and funding barriers to authentic youth collaboration.
What It Means
To reach youth in every part of the country, the federal government should provide flexible funding to address youth homelessness to all U.S. communities. Since many rural youth draw on informal supports, we must explore ways to help make informal arrangements more safe, legal, and supportive. We will also need to build more evidence about how to best support geographically dispersed youth by developing and rigorously evaluating innovative programs.
Rural communities will have to use nontraditional methods to better identify youth in need of support. While schools are strategically situated to help with this, many need to devote additional resources to youth homelessness. Targeting funding to communities, instead of individual agencies, can help rural areas develop more collaborative approaches. Efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in rural areas need to include explicit funding and outreach to dismantle systemic racism, support and affirm LGBTQ+ youth, engage Tribal nations, and collaborate with young people with lived experience.