There's No Place like Home: Anthropological Perspectives on Housing and Homelessness in the United States

By Anna Lou Dehavenon | Go to book overview
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munity institutions would do more to eliminate homelessness in the rural area than would the construction of public housing. Similarly, strengthening the rural community as a social surround, and linking low-income families more securely within it, could be an essential, and uniquely rural, strategy to reduce poverty and combat homelessness.
Recommendation #11. Toward accomplishing these goals, more applied and multidisciplinary social science research is needed. Comparative studies in different rural areas could elucidate specific regional and local causes, patterns, and variations, and could enable more effective response. More research is needed especially on the informal strategies and social resources poor people employ to keep themselves housed, so that these strategies could be fostered and replicated rather than overlooked or outlawed. Finally, research is needed on connections and comparisons between homelessness in rural and urban places, with the aim of developing more effective programs to prevent and combat homelessness, both urban and rural.


In light of the generally weak economy of most of rural America, poverty will probably continue to grow, and with it the potential for rural homelessness. The cost of modest rural housing appears to rise, even as the incomes of poor rural residents fall. Meanwhile, the number of low-income rural residents grows. To dismiss rural homelessness as a less pressing problem than urban homelessness simply because it is less visible, less concentrated, and involves fewer people would be a grave mistake. On the other hand, to address rural homelessness with programs designed for urban areas would be a serious misuse of resources. Because rural homelessness differs from urban homelessness, and because the rural economic, social, and cultural context in which it occurs also differs, different approaches are needed.


Research for this article was supported by the Ford Foundation through the Rural Economic Policy Program of the Aspen Institute. Portions of this chapter have appeared in earlier publications ( Fitchen 1991b, 1992).

In the rural United States, the number of low-rent housing units diminished from 1979 to 1985 relative to the growing number of low-income renters, transforming a surplus of low-rent housing to a shortfall of 500,000 units by 1985 ( Lazere, Leonard, and Kravitz 1989:11).
While rural rents are still lower than urban rents in most places across the country, rural incomes compared to urban incomes are even lower ( Lazere, Leonard, and Kravitz 1989:20), leaving a rent burden at least as high in rural areas as in urban.
In 1985, only 55 percent of poor rural households owned their homes, which is well above the level of home ownership among poor metropolitan households (32 percent), but


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There's No Place like Home: Anthropological Perspectives on Housing and Homelessness in the United States
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