Publications » Newsletter

Email You can now receive our news and information via e-mail. To sign up for email delivery of our news, click here.
Newsletter Archive Newsletter Archive

November/December 2000

Inside This Issue:


Pennsylvania's Rural Homeless Reality
Homelessness is often viewed as an urban issue since it is easier to visualize a person needing assistance or seeking shelter in urban areas. But homelessness is also a rural issue.

To develop an understanding of homelessness as it affects rural residents, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania analyzed data from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare for fiscal years 1997 through 1999.

While the data did not include reliable estimates on the number of rural homeless, it did include information on the number of people who received homeless assistance. From this information, it was possible to develop a clearer profile of who received homeless assistance, where many of those who received assistance were located, the types of assistance received, and the associated costs.

Following are just some of the results of the analysis. More information on how the data was analyzed is included below.

To make the analysis easier to read, the Center used the last date of the fiscal year to represent the entire calendar year. For example, the 1998-1999 fiscal year is shown throughout the analysis as 1999.

Statewide glance

Homeless assistance programs


Who received services

Cost of services


Issue throughout PA
In general, the analysis revealed that homelessness is an issue throughout Pennsylvania. It also showed that rural areas provide fewer public services than most urban areas; most rural assistance is limited to case management services and assisted rental housing; few rural communities have emergency shelters; and most rural homelessness is an issue among the working poor.

Analyzing the issue
To analyze the issue of rural homelessness, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania used data from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Homeless Assistance Program (HAP). This data detailed the number of clients by the types of services they received for fiscal years 1997, 1998, and 1999 and provided some general information on the economic and household characteristics of the clients.

Six basic homeless assistance programs were identified by the program, including emergency shelters, bridge housing, rental assistance, case management, innovative support housing service, and PennFree bridge housing.

The PennFree bridge housing is only available in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties and provides housing and case management services to homeless clients with substance abuse problems.

All of the programs are based on need, which means that clients must be in or near poverty. In 1999, the poverty rate for a family of three was $13,888. County governments oversee the provision of assistance to the clients through county personnel or a contracted organization.

Information on the number of clients who received assistance and total expenditures for each of the programs was analyzed from a rural/urban perspective. The analysis included any person who received assistance in a rural county.

It is important to note that there may be more rural homeless than reported here. This analysis only included those who requested assistance. Also, since assistance programs do not have residency requirements, there is no way to know if those who received assistance were residents of the county in which they received assistance.

Want more info?
For a more detailed fact sheet, Pennsylvania's Rural Homeless Reality, call or email the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or



Chairman’s Message
Can you imagine what it’s like not having a place to call home? For too many, this nightmare called homelessness is a reality of daily life. A recent analysis of homelessness by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania looked at whether this was as much a rural problem as an urban one. Sadly, the statistics from the Department of Public Welfare demonstrate that homelessness occurs in every rural county of our Commonwealth.

The Center's findings should help dispel a widespread misconception among rural Pennsylvanians that homelessness is an urban problem. Our analysis also points out that homelessness does not just affect the transient rural population.

We are hopeful that the Center’s analysis will put more focus on the problem and the disparity of public services that are provided to rural homeless as compared to those in urban areas. We are also hopeful that this analysis will focus more attention on the issue of homelessness and what needs to be done statewide to combat this issue.

Pennsylvania is turning a page in its history book in the area of protecting its fertile farmland. In the articleFour Pennsylvania Counties Make Top 12 List for Farmland Preservation, you will see four Pennsylvania counties listed among the top 12 counties in the nation for preserving farmland. I was especially proud to see Berks County on the list, having served as a director on the county agricultural land preservation board for the past decade. Lancaster, Chester and York counties have set the pace for keeping valuable farmland in production, and I encourage other counties across the state to continue their efforts to work with public and private organizations to protect the land resources we need to keep our number one industry in Pennsylvania - agriculture - growing stronger through the century ahead.

Protecting our land resource through preservation efforts goes hand in hand with protecting the soil we farm through sound conservation practices. Farmers in 20 counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are eligible to apply for a new, voluntary program that will help reduce soil erosion, and the resulting nutrient and sediment loading in the Bay, by retiring environmentally sensitive farmland from agricultural production. Learn more about the conservation program in the article, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Available to Eligible Farmers.

One of my special interests is history, and I am in full agreement that our Commonwealth’s more than 1,000 museums are truly treasures. I am proud to have the homestead of Conrad Weiser, a famous Pennsylvanian in our Commonwealth’s early history, in my legislative district, along with several community museums that help to educate the public about Berks County’s contributions to the Keystone state. These small museums and historic sites are part of a new publication, entitled Keystone Treasures, created by the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations. Our rural museums and historic homes or structures comprise 24 percent of the 600-plus sites. These historic sites are great finds for residents and travelers to Pennsylvania’s rural areas.

As we close out the year 2000, I wish you a wonderful holiday season and all the best in the coming New Year.

Representative Sheila Miller




Four Pennsylvania Counties Make Top 12 List for Farmland Preservation
Lancaster, Chester, York and Berks counties are among the top 12 counties in the nation for local farmland preservation programs, according to the Farmland Preservation Report’s Sixth Annual Survey. The report, published by Bowers Publishing, Inc., is based on information from interviews with county administrators in July 2000 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1997 Census of Agriculture.

The annual survey examines a locality’s progress in farmland preservation in terms of the number of acres permanently preserved, the political leadership and program administration, and the commitment of funds. To determine the number of acres preserved, the survey includes lands that are preserved by public programs as well as nonprofit entities and programs, such as land trusts, if the preserved acres are agricultural lands.

Lancaster County

Lancaster County ranks second in the survey, behind the leader, Montgomery County, Md., with 39,000 acres preserved or 10 percent of its total farmland. According to the report, Lancaster County preserved more farms in six months in 2000 than in it did during the 12 months of 1999.

Lancaster County is Pennsylvania’s most productive farming county, generating more than $649 million annually from about 5,000 farms. It ranks first in the state in alfalfa hay, cattle, chicken, milking cow, corn for silage and grain, hog and pig, milk, egg, and barley production.

Chester County

In June 2000, Chester County had more than 34,000 acres in its agricultural preservation program, or about 19.6 percent of its total farmland. Chester County entered the survey’s ranking for the first time in 1999 when the survey started to count agricultural lands preserved by nonprofit organizations and other entities as well as public programs.

Chester County ranks first in the state in mushroom production.

York County

According to the Farmland Preservation Report survey, York County has more than 21,000 acres preserved on 77 farms throughout the county.

York’s ranking in the top 12 was also helped along by preservation efforts of nonprofit organizations in addition to public programs.

York County ranks first in the state in wheat production, and second in soybeans and barley production. It also is ranked second in the number of farms.

Berks County

Entering the survey for the first time, Berks County ranked number 12 in the survey with more than 18,000 acres preserved.

The county ranks second in state in corn for grain production, and third in the number of farms and in wheat, soybean, and apple production.

Want more info?

For more information about the Farmland Preservation Report and the survey, call Bowers Publishing, Inc., at (410) 692-2708 or email



Did You Know . . .

* One in four rural Pennsylvanians was under 18 years old in 1999.

* In 1999, 50 percent of rural Pennsylvanians were born before the Berlin Wall was built; 12 percent were born after the Wall came down.

* Between June 1999 and June 2000, the number of rural residents receiving Food Stamps declined 3 percent; the number of urban residents declined 4 percent.

* Between 1998 and 1999, the number of building permits for new residential housing units in rural areas increased less than 1 percent. In urban areas, the number of permits increased 3 percent.



Revisiting Pennsylvania's Past
Interested in revisiting the past, discovering an old treasure or artifact, or even learning more about your local heritage? Just step into a museum in Pennsylvania.

These are the places where history takes on a new meaning and where Pennsylvania’s heritage come to life.

PA treasures
According to the second edition of Keystone Treasures, a publication of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations (PFMHO), there are more than 1,000 museums in Pennsylvania and about 60 percent of these museums are open to the public. Among the different types of museums in the state are historical societies and sites, botanical gardens, zoos, art museums and galleries, science centers, and natural history museums.

Of the 600 or so public museums in Pennsylvania, 24 percent are located in rural areas. According to Keystone Treasures, the majority of rural museums are historic homes or structures that have been restored to their original stature and contain local artifacts, restored furnishings, and genealogical information.

Western Pennsylvania houses 60 percent of rural museums, including the Drake Wells in Venango County, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in Potter County, and the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana County.

Funding generators
According to a study released by the PFMHO in February 2000, museums play a commendable role in generating funds for local areas and the state. The study, An Analysis of the Economic and Educational Activities of a Study Group of Pennsylvania Museums and Historical Organizations, found that in 1997, museums spent $155 million in Pennsylvania; 94 million for wages, salaries and fringe benefits and 61 million for goods and services. The direct and indirect economic impacts generated by these museum purchases totaled $77 million in earnings for Pennsylvania residents. The study also found that museums have 2,775 full- and part-time employees in the Commonwealth, and also rely heavily on volunteers. According to the report, about 17,800 volunteers staff Commonwealth museums.

The PFMHO survey included 242 public museums of all sizes and serving all parts of the state. The study also found that, in 1997, 14 million people visited Pennsylvania’s museums and that, on average, more than 74,000 visitors per year come to Pennsylvania’s museums. The median number of visitors per year, however, is a much lower 17,000, which equals about 47 visitors per day.

A bargain for treasures
The study also noted that museums are a great bargain. More than half of the museums in the study do not charge admission. The remainder had fees ranging from a low of $1 to a high of $12. The average admission price was $4.33. The study also found that over 50 percent of the museums surveyed operated on budgets of less than $250,000; 18 percent operated on budgets of $250,000 to $1 million; and 16.5 percent operated on budgets of over $1 million.



Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Available to Eligible Farmers
Eligible farmers in 20 Pennsylvania counties now have the opportunity to benefit from a program to help protect the Chesapeake Bay from the effects of nutrient and sediment loading due to agricultural runoff. The Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a voluntary program that allows farmers to enroll in contracts of 10 to 15 years in duration to remove environmentally sensitive farmland from agricultural production.

Farmers enrolled in the program will receive annual rental payments based on soil rental rates as calculated by the Farm Service Agency, the federal agency that is implementing the program. The rental payments will include incentive payments above the annual per acre rental rate based on the conservation practices installed on the eligible land. Eligible conservation practices include filter strips, riparian buffers, wetland restoration, contour grass strips, grassed waterways and shallow water areas.

The goal of CREP is to reduce sediment loading by 1.6 million tons and nitrogen and phosphorus loading by 2 million pounds per year. Pennsylvania is working to enroll 100,000 acres of farmland in Adams, Bedford, Berks, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Somerset, Union and York counties.

CREP applications must satisfy the basic eligibility criteria for the Conservation Reserve Program. Those interested in applying to participate in CREP should contact their local U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center or Soil and Water Conservation District.



Suicide Rates of Elderly Highest in Rural Areas
Rural Pennsylvania has the state’s highest per capita suicide rate. According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, between 1994 and 1998, more than 1,500 rural residents committed suicide, or 62 people for every 100,000 people. In urban areas, the rate was 57 for every 100,000 people.

Rural males were six times more likely than rural females to commit suicide. The rate for rural males was 109 people for every 100,000, while the rate for rural females was 17 people for every 100,000. In urban areas, the gap between male and females was not as wide.

The rural elderly, or people 65 years old and older, have the highest per capita suicide rates of any age cohort at a rate of 94 people for every 100,000. The rate for elderly males was 202 people for every 100,000 while the rate for elderly females was 21 people for every 100,000. The rate for victims between the ages of 30 and 44 years old was 83 and for teenagers was 14 for every 100,000 people.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1998, Pennsylvania ranked 31 in the nation in the number of suicides per capita. The states with the highest rates were Nevada, Alaska, and Wyoming. The states with the lowest rankings were Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

Within Pennsylvania, the northeast region had the highest suicide rate, while the south central region had the lowest rate. At the county level, Schuylkill, Pike, and Susquehanna counties had the highest suicide rates; more than 85 people for every 100,000 residents. Centre, Bedford, and Juniata counties had the lowest rates with less than 40 for every 100,000 people.



Just the Facts: Shop Till You Drop
Nowhere to shop in rural Pennsylvania? Not according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. In 1998, the state’s rural areas had the same ratio of retail establishments to population as urban areas.

In that same year, rural areas registered more than 13,500 retail establishments, or 1 store for every 188 residents. Urban areas claimed nearly 50,000 retail establishments or 1 store for every 189 residents.

This means that, per capita, about half of Pennsylvania’s 42 predominantly rural counties have more retail establishments than Philadelphia and Allegheny counties combined.

Between 1990 and 1998, urban areas had a 9 percent increase in retail establishments, while rural areas had only a 5 percent increase. In rural areas, 25 percent of the business establishments were retail establishments. In urban areas, 22 percent of all business establishments were retail establishments.

Nationally, Pennsylvania ranks 35 in the number of retail establishments per capita. Vermont, Montana, and Wyoming had the most retail establishments per capita, while Arizona, Utah, and California had the least. Within the Commonwealth, Forest, Sullivan and Clarion counties had the most retail establishments per capita, while Perry, Juniata, and Greene had the least.

In an average rural community, the largest number of retail establishments are eating and drinking places, followed by auto dealers and service stations, food stores, and furniture and home/garden stores.

The average rural retail establishment has about 13 employees, who earn an annual average wage of slightly more than $6.50 an hour. In urban areas, the average retail establishment employs nearly 16 employees who earn an annual average wage of about $7.80 an hour.

In the next five to 10 years, it will be interesting to see how or if local retail establishments will be affected by e-commerce.