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Highlights

The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009 directed GAO to conduct a broad study of homelessness in rural areas. In this report, we provide information about rural homelessness issues, based in significant part on our work in rural areas within six selected states. Specifically, the report addresses the following questions: (1) What are the characteristics of homelessness in rural areas? (2) What assistance is available to individuals or families experiencing homelessness and what amount of funding have the federal departments and agencies awarded to organizations that assist persons experiencing homelessness in rural areas? (3) What barriers do persons experiencing homelessness and homeless service providers encounter when seeking assistance or funding to provide assistance? To address these issues, GAO reviewed relevant literature, conducted site visits, and interviewed agency officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Housing and Urban Development 1. To strengthen formal collaboration efforts, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the appropriate program offices to further explore opportunities to more formally link housing and supportive services--in the most appropriate forms and combinations of mainstream and targeted programs identified by both agencies--with specific consideration for how such collaboration could minimize barriers to service provision in rural areas.
Closed - Implemented
HUD has taken steps to collaborate with HHS in efforts that link housing and supportive services that can address homelessness in rural areas. For example, HUD collaborated with HHS, the Department of Education, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to develop the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), a program designed to learn how communities can successfully approach the goal of preventing and ending youth homelessness by building comprehensive systems of care for young people rather than implementing individual or unconnected projects that serve this population. In January 2017, HUD announced the selection of 10 communities to participate in the program, including four rural areas. Under the YHDP, the communities are expected to collaborate with a broad array of partners including a youth advisory board and the local or state public child welfare agency, develop a coordinated community plan to prevent and end youth homelessness, and participate in a program evaluation to inform the federal effort to prevent and end youth homelessness going forward.
Department of Health and Human Services 2. To strengthen formal collaboration efforts, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the appropriate program offices to further explore opportunities to more formally link housing and supportive services--in the most appropriate forms and combinations of mainstream and targeted programs identified by both agencies--with specific consideration for how such collaboration could minimize barriers to service provision in rural areas.
Closed - Implemented
HHS has taken steps to collaborate with HUD in efforts that link housing and supportive services that can address homelessness in rural areas. For example, HHS stated that its Office of Family Assistance issued an information memorandum in February 2013 titled "Use of TANF Funds to Serve Homeless Families and Families at Risk of Experiencing Homelessness." HHS noted that it developed the memorandum with input and approval from HUD, which offers guidance on how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program funds can be used for housing and various supportive services in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike.

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