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Experts call on Illinois to do more to address homelessness in rural areas

A lack of data makes it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.

Experts in homelessness and health are calling on Illinois to make changes to better serve the homeless in rural areas.

Among the chronically unhoused, many people are dealing with mental or physical health challenges that require additional services. Merridith Montgomery, with the Supportive Housing Providers Association, said that on top of that, homelessness is also a form of trauma.

"So supportive services is very critical to people who are experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is a trauma, going through the systems is challenging, and supportive services at any level is important," she said.

Montgomery said the emphasis should be on a housing first model, which gets people into housing first, and then works to connect them with other services they may need.

The SIU Center on Rural Medicine and Social Service Development is recommending that Illinois form a state-wide a task force dedicated to rural homelessness to better understand how prevalent it is, and for a pilot program using rural community care centers that would link healthcare and housing with other social services.

Steph Whiteside is a Digital Media News Specialist with WSIU radio in Carbondale, Ill. She previously worked as a general reporter at AJ+ and Current TV.
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