By Keli James, PR communications coordinator

A person sleeping on a couch
A person sleeping on a couch

In rural areas, up to 7 percent are homeless, but not all are counted. In January each year nationwide, an official point-in-time count records a 24-hour tally of a community’s homeless population on the streets or in shelters.

However, the homeless total is often underestimated in rural areas because some temporarily live with relatives or sleep at a friend’s house to escape harsh winter conditions.

“They’re not out in the open like they are in a larger city, because they find places,” Jennifer Cruz, a volunteer who drove around Cheyenne, Wyoming, during a point-in-time count told NPR “I just met a gentleman who’s been sleeping on his brother’s couch, but he is homeless.”

To address this problem, volunteers in Wyoming put up flyers around town advertising a free meal and hot drinks in Cheyenne’s main plaza, where the homeless answer federal homelessness surveys. Still, some homeless were missed.

Because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognizes this as an official count the inexact total could reduce the amount of federal funding for homeless services.

Homelessness has many causes, including a severe shortage of affordable housing, lack of resources for the mentally ill and the tenuous existence of low-income people in this country. To learn more or promote more resources to address the problem, join the National Rural Housing Coalition (http://ruralhousingcoalition.org/) or the National Low Income Housing Coalition (http://nlihc.org/). Both advocate on behalf of low income and homeless people. Ask your congressional representatives to support programs for more affordable housing.

To read more about Wyoming’s homeless population go here: http://www.npr.org/2016/02/18/467217588/in-rural-america-homeless-population-may-be-bigger-than-you-think?

For more information about RCAC’s affordable housing programs go here: http://www.rcac.org/housing/housing-development/