Homelessness is often assumed to be an urban phenomenon because homeless people are more numerous, more geographically concentrated, and more visible in urban areas. However, people experience the same difficulties associated with homelessness and housing distress in America's small towns and rural areas as they do in urban areas.
In urban areas, estimates commonly rely on counts of persons using services. However, by this measure, homeless persons in rural areas are likely substantially under-counted due to the lack of rural service sites, the difficulty capturing persons who do not use homeless services, the limited number of researchers working in rural communities, and the minimal incentive for rural providers to collect data on their clients.
Rural homelessness, like urban homelessness, is the result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing, and research has shown :
For the vast majority of people who become homeless, the experience is rather short. In Canada, though the median length of stay in emergency shelter is approximately 50 days, most people are homeless for less than a month (29% stay only one night), and manage to leave homelessness on their own, usually with little support. For these people homelessness is a one-time only event. People who are chronically homeless (long-term) or episodically homeless (moving in and out of homelessness), form a smaller percentage of the overall homeless population, but at the same time use more than half the emergency shelter space in Canada and are most often the highest users of public systems.