Homelessness and Poverty in Upstate New York


            Homelessness is often regarded as an urban phenomenon since most homeless individuals are concentrated in urban areas making them more visible. However, it is essential to understand that people in rural areas and small towns also experience the difficulties or challenges associated with housing distress, homelessness, and poverty as the urban residents. The United States is a predominantly urban-centric society; nonetheless, the rural regions still account for about 70 percent of the country’s landmass. Cities are viewed as hubs for economic growth and development as well as cultural incubators. In modern-day society, cities also play a crucial role in other aspects of human life, such as politics and culture. Therefore, due to the urban-centric focus of the United States’ society, many social issues affecting the rural areas, such as homelessness and poverty, are not given sufficient attention or are viewed via an “urban lens.” Even though metropolitan or urban poverty rates have declined during the twenty-first century, rural poverty has persisted throughout the same period. One of the significant social problems directly associated with persistent rural poverty is homelessness. Homelessness in Upstate New York is closely connected to the increasing rural poverty in the region, particularly lack of affordable housing, a decline in employment, and the upsurge in single-parent households or families. The present paper will discuss the problem of homelessness and poverty in upstate New York.

Problem Description

            In the United States, it is estimated that over 552,830 individuals experienced homelessness every night in 2018, indicating that the strong economic progress has not helped deal with the persistent lack of low-cost housing in the country (Yousey & Samudra, 2018). A significant 17 percent of the homeless individuals in the U.S., representing 91,897 people, were in the New York State (Yousey & Samudra, 2018). However, annual reports to the Congress on homelessness assessment reveal that the figure (552,830) is an undercount meaning that the situation is even worse (Yousey & Samudra, 2018). In the past few decades, homelessness in the New York States, particularly the urban areas such as New York City, has increased to the highest levels ever since the Great Depression that occurred in the 1930s (Yousey & Samudra, 2018). The factors that impact homelessness as a phenomenon are multifaceted and interactive. For instance, multiple social forces interact to bring about this phenomenon. Social forces and determinants influencing homelessness include family breakdowns, mental illnesses, and addictions that are aggravated or exacerbated by structural factors such as poor economic status, lack of available affordable or low-cost housing, and inadequate mental healthcare services (Mabhala, Yohannes, & Griffith, 2017). Therefore, these multifaceted factors together influence homelessness and poverty via their dynamic interactions.

            In the global context, increasing literature works have revealed that homelessness is a public and social health problem surpassing the lack of a place to stay or live. As a result, this perspective suggests a paradigm shift from the conventional definition of homelessness as the mere lack of permanent accommodation (Kiddey, 2017). Also, multiple studies have examined the association between social forces and homelessness. Globally, the most widespread social factors leading to homelessness focus on seven different areas of deprivation, including income, crime, health and disability, skills and training, education, employment, living environment, and barriers to social and housing support service (Kiddey, 2017). Out of the seven key factors, income deprivation leading to poverty has been singled out as having the most severe influence on homelessness (Mabhala, Yohannes, & Griffith, 2017). In essence, individuals from highly deprived backgrounds or households are disproportionately represented among the homeless populations across the world. Poor people experience several adverse economic, social, and health conditions such as lack of low-cost housing, crime, and drug and alcohol abuse.

            Comparing the social factors influencing homelessness locally and internationally reveals so many similarities with no substantial differences. For example, in both cases, conditions of deprivation such as income, crime, health and disability, skills and training, education, employment, living environment, and barriers to social and housing support service aggravate the prevalence of homelessness. Also, income deprivation or poverty has been singled out as having the most severe influence linked with homelessness.


            First, comprehending the concept of rural homelessness necessitates a more comprehensive and flexible definition of the term “homelessness.” For instance, the description should consider fewer shelters in rural settlements than in metropolitan areas. Hence, individuals experiencing homelessness in the urban areas are more likely to stay in a camper or a car or with relatives and friends in substandard or overcrowded housing and less likely to reside on the streets (Buyukozkan, Feyzioglu, & Havle, 2019). Confining the definition of the term to include only people who are homeless – living on the streets – assumes the reality in rural areas where there is no such infrastructure (Buyukozkan, Feyzioglu, & Havle, 2019). This is problematic because it denies rural areas federal funding to address homelessness. One notable stereotype is that homelessness is an urban phenomenon since most homeless individuals are concentrated in the urban areas making them more visible. It is biased for the federal government to focus more on addressing poverty in urban areas to reduce homelessness. Yet, more people are poor in the nonmetropolitan or rural areas than metropolitan areas.

            In my opinion, I have always assumed that the housing costs in the nonmetropolitan regions or areas are lower compared to the urban areas. This is a biased assumption considering that the rural incomes are also lower. Also, the quality of housing in rural areas can contribute to homelessness. Sociological theories help people to study interactions, patterns, and events. Thus, the approaches can help develop testable propositions known as a hypothesis that helps avoid any potential biases.


Buyukozkan, G., Feyzioglu, O., & Havle, C. A. (2019). Analyzing success factors of digital transformation in aviation industry using fuzzy cognitive map approach. 2019 3rd International Conference on Data Science and Business Analytics (ICDSBA). doi:10.1109/icdsba48748.2019.00035

Kiddey, R. (2017). Homelessness in a global historical context. Homeless Heritage. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198746867.003.0008

Mabhala, M. A., Yohannes, A., & Griffith, M. (2017). Social conditions of becoming homelessness: Qualitative analysis of life stories of homeless peoples. International Journal for Equity in Health16(1). doi:10.1186/s12939-017-0646-3

Yousey, A., & Samudra, R. (2018). Defining homelessness in the rural United States. Online Journal of Rural Research & Policy13(4). doi:10.4148/1936-0487.1094