Homelessness: it's not the first thing that comes to mind when we think about Canada's rural and remote communities. Our ideas about rurality are often infused with images of idyllic countryside landscapes and close-knit communities. Canada's pioneer past adds an additional element of self-sufficiency and independent spirit. Nevertheless, housing instability and homelessness are emerging as prevalent and even increasing social challenges across Canada's rural communities.
In a study of 22 Canadian rural communities, Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff and Alina Turner researched the dynamics behind rural homelessness and tried to discern what exactly makes it distinct from its urban (and much more visible) counterpart.
So, what's so different about rural homelessness?
1. An invisible, yet diverse and prevalent issue.Every community we talked to reported homelessness to be a challenge - whether it had a population of 500, 5,000, or 15,000. But, those experiencing homelessness were most likely to be hidden: couch surfing, living in makeshift shelter, and camping out were commonly reported. Though hidden, rural homelessness is very diverse: it reaches across the lifespan to children, youth, and seniors; it's experienced by women and men alike, newcomers and Aboriginal people; it's experienced by low income individuals with and without addiction or mental health issues, or facing domestic violence. Of course, the total numbers of homeless are much lower in small communities - which make the issue less visible as well. This impacts public recognition and action to address the issue. When you don't see homelessness, it's easier to deny it exists and it's easier to push it to the bottom of the community agenda.