Homelessness looks different depending on where you live. In the case of rural homelessness, it's often hidden, complex and surprisingly prevalent. Author and researcher Elizabeth Carpenter-Song is a medical and psychological anthropologist who has studied homelessness for more than a decade. Her new book Families on the Edge: Experiences of Homelessness and Care in Rural New England is an "ethnographic study of housing insecurity in an under-studied region," reports Olivia Weeks of The Daily Yonder. A condensed version of Weeks' question-and-answer interview with Carpenter-Song is shared below.

What are the most important differences in experiences of rural and urban homelessness?

Homelessness in urban areas of the U.S. is much more visible. In many American cities, it is common to see and interact with people who may be unhoused. . . . In our rural towns and villages in New England, there are encampments of unhoused people, but these tend to be out of sight. People experiencing homelessness in rural areas . . . may camp in the woods, sleep in cars, or double-up with friends or family for periods of time.

In the context of families, which was the focus of my research, parents go to great lengths to avoid literal homelessness with their kids and, as a result, move frequently between different settings to access shelter. In rural areas, challenges related to housing are compounded by transportation challenges when people move to more remote towns to gain access to more affordable housing. But, this places people at risk of being isolated from support networks and creates challenges for finding employment and meeting basic needs within small rural towns.

Are there any commonalities that might seem surprising to an outsider?
The main commonality between experiences of homelessness in rural and urban areas is that homelessness is a housing problem. As a society, we are now experiencing the consequences of decades of underinvestment in affordable housing. Runaway real estate valuations and high costs of living, coupled with a lack of adequate housing stock, have created a common scenario across the U.S. in which safe and affordable housing is out of reach for more and more people.

Read the full article about rural homelessness by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.