Poverty and Homelessness in Rural Upstate New York
Janet M. Fitchen
In rural upstate New York, changes in social organization as a result of the low- income housing crisis include an increase in single-parent families combined with a corresponding reduction in available employment opportunities. The result for many has been the removal of children to relatives or foster families when their parents become homeless. Needy families live in marginal housing, like trailers, with housing code violations, rats, polluted water, no sewers, and little or no code enforcement by the government until the families are forced to leave. Fitchen recommends preventive case management in public assistance programs and rent subsidies for families at risk of homelessness.
Few people are aware that homelessness is a problem in rural America. Rural homelessness is conceptually "invisible" because it does not match our urban-based images and stereotypes. Rural homeless people are not seen sleeping on heating grates or in large congregate shelters, because there are few such places in rural and small-town America. Instead, people without homes are dispersed in temporary, inadequate sleeping arrangements, and since they usually have some sort of a roof over their heads, they are invisible to the public.
In the course of research in upstate New York I have found some rural residents who have housing problems severe enough to constitute homelessness. The roof that shelters them may be only a car or shed roof; it may be the leaking roof of a very old, dilapidated farmhouse or of an isolated shack with no running water; it may be the temporary roof of an old mobile home already fully occupied by relatives or friends, or of a borrowed camper-trailer parked off-season in a public campground. Families may have to move frequently from one such accommodation to another, remaining inadequately and insecurely housed for months or even years. People in these types of situations would surely qualify as homeless according to a more