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Homeless in God’s Country: Coping Strategies and Felt Experiences of the Rural Homeless

November 2010

Timothy Hilton, Cornell DeJong


This ethnography examines the lived experiences of homeless people in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). It finds five distinct categories of coping behaviors (how they search for basic necessities) in the UP: shelter users; campers (those living outdoors or in cars); couch surfers (those temporarily staying with friends and family); mixed users; and circumstantial homeless (“atypical” homeless experiences). Across these categories, however, the participants’ experiences are extremely diverse in their coping behaviors, especially in terms of the use of government agencies and social services.

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Policy Implications

This article shows a need for policymakers to make social services more available to homeless and displaced populations, especially in rural areas where homeless populations face different challenges than in urban areas. Many of the participants in this study chose not to use government services because they had poor experiences with them or perceived the services not to be useful. Therefore, policymakers should work to create policies that are tailored to the unique needs of rural homelessness.

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