As the Joad family lost its farm and hit the road in Steinbeck's classic, The Grapes of Wrath, so to did America lose its ability to plead ignorance to the problem of rural homelessness. Yet, as the troubles of the Great Depression, and two million homeless Americans, were eclipsed by a world at war, the issue of homelessness was once again placed on the back burner, and then taken off of the stove altogether (Davis 275). Although this problem has seldom been discussed in the sixty years since, rural homelessness is again on the rise and threatens to become the major problem facing rural America (Rural Homelessness).
Less than ten miles from the intersection of Sprague and Division in downtown Spokane, the problem of rural homelessness in our own community is glaringly evident. At the intersection of Sullivan Road and Interstate 90, in the Spokane Valley, where drivers are momentarily slowed in their rush to get on with life, stands testament that not everyone is sharing in the American dream. With their worn out Levi's, old coats, and sometime mismatched shoes, the homeless work these corners for handouts like pigeons gathered around an old man on a park bench. These people don't ride out here on the number three bus from the STA Plaza, and they don't commute here in the Geos, Hondas, and Cadillacs that are constantly stopping and going with the changing of the lights.
The people that ply these corners with their homemade cardboard "Please Help" signs, are here because this is the closest (and therefore most convenient) corner to where they sleep. A short walk along the rocky northern bank of the Spokane River, west of Sullivan, leads to a camp tucked among the ponderosa's in a small gully. These homeless do not call this ramshackle collection of cardboard and plywood home because they love the fresh air and free living of the camping life; these people are here because this is the proverbial "end of the road".
As the high-rises and parking lots of downtown Spokane fade from sight in the rear view mirror, replaced by grain silos and dusty beef cattle, the problem of homelessness becomes less and less visible. Although the homeless here may be out of sight, they are still present; for a variety of reasons, the rural homeless are not as blatantly obvious as their peers in the city. For example, few rural communities have homeless shelters, which, in big cities, tend to congregate the homeless into easily identifiable groups. As a result, some indigent people are forced to find temporary shelter with friends and family; others sleep in their vehicles at campsites. This "we take care of our own" attitude tends to keep the rural homeless out of site of passers-by. Subsequently, the exact numbers of rural homeless are nearly impossible...