Friday, December 29, 2017

On rural homelessness in Arizona

Here is the story (Arizona Republic) from earlier this month, dateline Gila County, population 53,597.  It features Doug Stewart, a one-person homeless outreach employee for Arizona's 13 "rural" counties.  An excerpt from journalist Alden Woods' story follows:
In [Gila] country’s losing effort to house everybody, rural residents are often overlooked. Seven percent of America’s homeless population lives in rural areas. But the safety nets built into big cities often doesn't exist outside the metro areas. Rent prices are lower, but so are incomes. The National Rural Housing Coalition found that almost half of all rural Americans spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent. 
"Bleak is probably not the right word," Payson Mayor Craig Swartwood said in an interview. "But we’re critically in need of more rentals in the affordable area."
Payson (population 15,000) is the largest city in Gila County, for which the county seat is Globe, population 7,352.  The county's poverty rate is 22%.

On infrastructure for homeless services, Woods explains:
There are too few resources to set up the kind of services found in the cities. The county has no homeless shelters and has no plans to build any. Its housing director doesn't believe a grant could be large enough to justify the time spent applying for them.

But Gila County isn't even eligible to apply.

To seek federal homelessness-prevention grants, a community must set up what's called a Continuum of Care, an organization that brings together housing, service providers and local officials. It’s the first step in fighting homelessness at the local level.
Arizona has three major COCs: one for Maricopa County, one for Pima County and one for the rest of the state. That statewide organization, called the Balance of State COC, spreads about $4 million in grants across Arizona. The board that distributes the money is supposed to include representatives from each of the state’s 13 rural counties. 
Gila County does not have a representative.
It's a familiar story, whether called "upstate" (New York) or "out state" (Minnesota, Wisconsin) or--as here--"balance of state," rural areas don't get a fair share of funding and state support.  The services they are able to deliver thus pale in comparison to urban areas. 

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