WWW.AGRM.ORG JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 35 needs, and they tapped into the school district homeless services liaison. Then he and his staff began meeting with churches, a ministerial association, and other agencies and ministries. “Rural homelessness is really different from urban homelessness. We found a large need outside the city,” Dennis said. Nearly 2,100 children in the area school district were experiencing homelessness, with half of them in rural communities. But the resources to help their families were concentrated mostly in urban areas. While some families that are homeless may not self-report on the forms the school system uses to collect data on homeless students, school counselors and teachers often know about families that are struggling. “I have teachers telling me all the time—they come to school for two things: to eat and to sleep. They will fall behind. If a child has four to six experiences of homelessness between kindergarten and 10th grade, they will not graduate from high school,” Dennis said. To assist these families experiencing homelessness, MTM formed partnerships with organizations in rural areas to help them, including North Kent Connect and Cedar Springs Public Schools. MTM hired an outreach advocate to build rela- tionships in rural areas. The outreach advocate connects individuals and fami- lies in crisis with resources to help them overcome barriers such as a lack of hous- ing, finances, transportation, domestic violence, and other issues. “We are bringing the expertise that we have in the city of helping people experiencing homelessness but applying it in a rural setting,” Dennis said. While MTM operates a successful rescue mission in Grand Rapids, Dennis and his staff realize they need to do more. The outreach advocate has regular office hours at partner locations, and also visits area hotels and campgrounds. He’s currently working with three other organizations on a proposal for the school system that will (hopefully) turn an unused school building into a family shelter and offer wraparound support services for homeless families. Dennis thinks that in about a year they will have numbers to prove that there is more family homelessness in rural areas than in the city. Nationally, about 30 percent of fami- lies on the verge of homelessness can be diverted and never become homeless for less than $500. Dennis has found that to be true in rural areas as well. A family that talked with the rural out- reach worker was struggling to pay their rent after the father lost his job. The father was offered a new job, but he needed steel-toed work boots. He faced a dilem- ma: take care of his family’s needs or buy boots for work? For Dennis it was a no brainer—they bought boots for the man. Creating New Avenues I n rural North Carolina, transporta- tion is an issue affecting client serv- ices for the Rockingham Rescue Mission, which recently opened its sec- ond location. The mission also joined a coalition of other organizations offering mobile services—including a food Ī Nationally, about 30 percent of families on the verge of homelessness can be diverted and never become homeless for less than $500.