“Homelessness is not just a city issues.…People are living in cars and
tents in our small towns.”
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS IN RURAL & REMOTE COMMUNITIES
While issues related to affordable housing and homelessness are often framed as urban issues, there is a growing understanding of these challenges in rural and remote communities across Canada. The stress and impacts of housing insecurity and homelessness on the individual and households are the same regardless of whether they are in a rural or urban community. It is essential that rural and remote communities are adequately supported through funding and programming options to meet the needs of residents.
Research into Housing First in Rural Canada in 2014 identified a number of challenges unique to rural and remote communities, related to housing and homelessness and included:
1. Rural homelessness has distinct dynamics from urban regions, particularly related to the availability of social infrastructure, the impacts of macro-economic shifts, housing markets and migration.
2. Despite homelessness in rural communities being primarily hidden (couch surfing, sleeping in poor or unaffordable housing), visible forms of rough sleeping are common (sleeping in cars, public places, camping in parks).
3. Aboriginal migration impacts homelessness in rural communities significantly where proximity to Aboriginal communities exists and where regional centres act as access points to services and opportunities.
4.Coordination to respond to homelessness varies across rural communities, with official support and resourcing being key factors in local capacity to develop systematic efforts.
5. The availability of affordable housing and rent supports in rural communities can make a considerable impact on the magnitude of homelessness, though uneven distribution of these resources can result in a mismatch of supply-demand.
6. There is a high level of interest in Housing First, though notable challenges to implementation were identified, namely: lack of funding for implementation, lack of local clinical expertise, insufficient housing stock for scattered-site approaches, and inability to reach efficiencies of scale due to low client numbers.
Despite there being limited data about homelessness in rural and remote communities across Canada, individual community reports on rural housing/homelessness indicate that homelessness is a challenge, including here in rural Nova Scotia.
WHAT CAN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DO?
Working alongside and in collaboration with rural and remote communities to address their unique challenges will not only improve access to affordable housing options along the housing continuum, but also support those who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless to stay in rural and remote communities. Indeed, efforts to support rural and remote communities to improve access to healthy, safe and affordable housing and provide supports for those experiencing homelessness will contribute to the efforts of urban centres to address their homelessness challenges.