Once evidenced-based practices are established for rural areas, it is important to find ways to disseminate this information to rural communities. Generally, rural communities have much less access to resources for disseminating successful approaches or training providers on their implementation (Office of Rural Mental Health Research, 2003). This is part of what one rural expert called the cycle of disparity (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, 2006). The lack of resources begins with funding. While an estimated 9 percent of the homeless population live in rural communities, only 5 percent of targeted homelessness assistance reaches these areas (Strong et al., 2005). A significant disparity in federal spending on rural community development has also been seen in recent years: two to five times more per capita is spent in urban areas versus rural (Johnson & Rathge, 2006). In addition, as described in Evaluation of Continuums of Care for Homeless People (Burt et al., 2002), a great deal of complexity is often added to service delivery in rural communities, because funds are distributed on a regional basis, requiring rural service providers to negotiate, plan, and compete for resources on a regional or statewide level. A prime example is the distribution of HUD continuum-of-care funding for persons who are homeless (Burt et al., 2002). While the continuum of care requires all applicants to compete for funding, other dollars for the provision of housing and services often are awarded directly to cities, when rural communities must compete at the state level for the same funds. Examples of this disparity include the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Program.
The relative lack of funding going to rural communities also means that less is known about what is and is not working. The primary data sources for homelessness research are databases and reports made available to federal funding sources. When these funds do not reach rural communities, the information is not collected and analyzed and program efficacy remains unevaluated. The lack of data and, therefore, research means that public policy responses continue to focus on urban poverty without regard to unique rural factors, including higher poverty rates among children and lack of transportation and specialized services (OHare et al., 2004). Only with a conscious effort to break this cycle can rural homelessness not only begin to be understood, but finally be addressed.