Rural and Homeless: ‘I Had No Place to Go’
Homelessness isn’t just an urban problem, say staff of a shelter serving the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. With poverty and a growing number of “love evictions” related to drug abuse, people from near and far rely on shelters and social-service programs for help.
Unlike many rural people who are homeless, Foulon had no family or friends to rely on for interim housing. While his situation was a little outside the norm, he was far from alone in his need for help with accommodations.
“You could say everybody has a different story on how we all wound up in the same place,” Foulon said.
Because of its unpredictable and unstable nature, homelessness is hard to measure. Though frequently associated with urban areas, the issue affects rural communities, as well.
CHCC opened in 1977 as a food pantry. Its work has expanded over the years to meet changing needs.
CHCC is one of the main homeless shelters in the region. The building can hold 12 clients for emergency housing of up to 30 days. It has room for 12 more clients to stay in transitional housing for up to two years.
CHCC also supports three income-based housing complexes for the community – where rent does not exceed 30% of a tenant’s income. These housing options are normally set aside for families and often have long waiting lists, some extending up to two years. CHCC also helps clients with the transition to permanent housing through grant applications and referrals. And it helps its clients apply for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers that can defray rent for some.
The food pantry is still a main part of CHCC’s operations, providing three meals a day from the center and providing monthly food boxes of non-perishable items like peanut butter and canned vegetables. Families also receive monthly household goods, donated furniture, and hygiene kits.
Dani Caudill, a resident case manager at CHCC, said food demand has been on the increase. Distribution increased in April through June of this year and stayed well above the seasonal average, Caudill said. In April 2015, 87 food boxes and 901 to-go meals were distributed.
Caudill said demand usually drops in warmer weather. But that didn’t happen this spring, and Caudill isn’t sure why. Other food-pantry programs in the region have observed a similar trend, Caudill said.
CHCC employs six residential counselors, one case manager, and one part-time AmeriCorps service worker. Volunteers round out the center’s work force. Religious organizations provide funding and volunteer support.
But awareness of the center is not high, Caudill said. “I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t even know it was here before I started applying for jobs,” she said. Like many, she said she assumed that everyone had a place to go or family to rely on if they needed to.
Reasons for Homelessness in Hazard
A stereotype of rural areas is that there is always family support to help solve housing issues. But that’s not always the case.
“Most of the people that come to us come because they can no longer live with a friend or a family member,” Caudill said.