Although many associate homelessness with urban centers, the problem of lack of housing is more widespread, speakers said at a recent state Senate hearing on homelessness.

The rise in rents and wages that did not follow caused some Georgians to leave their homes, local experts and observers said.

Federal data shows there are about 10,000 homeless people in Georgia. About a third of these people are outside Georgian cities.

A person would have to make $14.24 an hour to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment outside of Georgia’s cities, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This is almost double the Georgian minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Georgia is short of about 207,000 affordable and accessible rental units, according to the group.

The housing crisis isn’t always as visible in rural Georgia as it is in Atlanta, said Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown, CEO of Georgia Advancing Communities Together, a nationwide coalition of affordable housing groups. State.

But the problem is also real in rural areas.

Hayes-Brown’s organization sponsored a series of meetings around South Georgia to learn more about people’s experiences.

“People are doubling and tripling,” she said, referring to a practice where families or individuals share accommodation in close neighborhoods to help make ends meet.

Some people also live in tent camps in forests or other isolated places in rural Georgia, she said.

Another concern is the lack of emergency shelters and other places people can live as they get back on their feet, Hayes-Brown said.

According to the latest data from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are about 3,000 emergency shelter and transitional housing beds and about 3,600 other permanent supportive housing in Georgia outside of major cities.

But these supports are not always available where and when they are needed.

Cedartown in northwest Georgia has no real homeless shelter, said John Winecoff of Community Share Ministries.

Winecoff runs a small, specialist program to help men get back on their feet – but that can’t stem the tide Cedartown is seeing.

“Recently we’ve had an upsurge in homelessness,” Winecoff said. “Places to live…have become unaffordable.”

There is also a lack of jobs in the region. Some homeless people struggle with addictions to opioids, alcohol or methamphetamines. Others are just passing through, often en route to Atlanta, and get stuck in the area, Winecoff said.

“There aren’t a lot of resources to turn to in Cedartown,” he says. “Some have no choice but to sleep in the woods.”

Winecoff said many homeless people lack basic identification documents that would help them get services or find jobs, so his organization is trying to help.

“There’s no way to get [an ID]”If you live in the woods,” he said.

Small towns face similar issues, said Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish, who has noticed an increase in homelessness over the past three to five years.

“In simple economics, the increase in demand for housing coupled with a decrease in supply created a higher market price for housing,” Parrish said. “Affordable housing is more difficult to find. This left a large part of our population homeless.

The Parrish Police Department and community groups are keenly aware of the problem, he said, and they are working together to connect people to resources.

Yet, so far, there has been no silver bullet to the root problem, the lack of affordable housing, Parrish said.

Far south in Fitzgerald, Lethia Kittrell said people were sleeping in public places, camping in the woods and staying at a local homeless camp.

Kittrell, CEO of the nonprofit Fitzgerald for Change and a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives, said his area lacks the resources to address the issue and wants to address it.

An influx of people from big cities lured by low housing prices — at least for them — is contributing to the housing shortage, Kittrell said.

Even substandard units are much more expensive than before, Kittrell said, and she’s “primarily concerned” about security in some housing units. Some people struggle to cope with higher energy bills and higher housing costs at the same time.

And Kittrell said there are numerous eviction cases pending in court.

Kittrell and Hayes-Brown said people trying to solve the housing problem in small towns often feel disconnected from the financial and political resources of the big city.

Hayes-Brown pointed out that a small investment can make a big difference in a rural area.

There are a number of steps local and state policymakers can take to address homelessness, said Sarah Saadian, senior vice president of public policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Federal COVID relief funds could be used to help build affordable housing and provide rent assistance, she said.

Municipalities may consider changing zoning laws to allow for denser housing, such as multi-family units.

Some cities have banned landlords from asking how people would pay for rental housing to end discrimination against those dependent on housing vouchers, Saadian said.

The federal government also has a role to play. Although there is a federal rental assistance program, it only serves one in four people who need it to access affordable housing. More funding could increase the number of people helped, Saadian said.

A state Senate study committee on homelessness chaired by Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, held its first meeting earlier this month. Lawyers from Atlanta and small towns in the state testified. The committee will meet again this fall.

This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.