Established in 1941 to support the families of sailors and soldiers who were overseas, Family & Community Services, Inc. (FCS) provides many social services to residents of 15 counties in Ohio and Michigan. In the last two decades alone, it has grown exponentially—from a $1 million to a roughly $20 million nonprofit organization—says Matthew Slater, Director of Veterans’ Services. The bulk of the programs FCS provides are in Portage County, Ohio, a rural area of about 500 square miles in the northeastern corner of the state, between Akron and Youngstown. Portage County is home to some 150,000 residents. FCS services include emergency, transitional, and permanent supportive housing, along with domestic violence shelters and a family adoption program. There are some logistical challenges that are unique to rural areas, says Slater. Public transportation is usually spottier, for example, making it difficult to access services. “If you’re serving 14 people, how do they get to appointments that are necessary?” says Slater. “How do they get to a job? If they work third shift, maybe they can get back from the job, but they couldn’t get to the job.” And there are challenges beyond transportation. Slater says locating people experiencing homelessness in rural areas is more difficult than in cities. Rather than a community of such individuals, as in metropolitan areas, “They tend to be more scattered, so it can be the needle in the proverbial haystack,” Slater says. Without communal gathering places, people who experience chronic homelessness are often invisible. “It can be much more difficult to engage them,” says Slater, “and to check in on how they’re doing and provide them with services that they may need.” Not all the counties served by FCS are so rural—in fact, of the 15, Portage has the smallest population—and different programs are operated in different counties, depending on local need. But, in 2005, FCS got back to its roots serving veterans by establishing a 90-day emergency shelter for Portage County veterans. The eight-bed facility was filled within four months and had a long waiting list. Through a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Grant and Per Diem program to operate transitional housing and build or rehab housing for veterans who experience homelessness, FCS now offers 100 beds in four counties. But there is still a waiting list. In conjunction with the VA, FCS has developed unique veterans’ programming focused on creative arts therapy. The program, which lasts 12 weeks and includes four or five different therapies such as poetry, creative writing, drama, music, and life skills. Each week allows veterans to “gain control of their past and start processing the root causes of why they became homeless,” says Slater. It augments, rather than replaces, more traditional “talk therapy” that veterans may receive through the VA. Within the first year of the program’s implementation in Portage County, the success rate among veterans in gaining permanent housing rose from 67% to 90%, an increase that surprised everyone. To better understand the connection, FCS is now studying the program’s impact with a professor from nearby Kent State University, in an effort to prove its validity and make it available to others. With the onset of cold weather, FCS staff in all locations anticipate a spike in the number of people needing aid, the first of two such surges. The second will come when the weather warms up. Often, people who have allowed friends to “couch surf” decide they have had enough and ask them to leave. Staffers are also prepared for the holidays, which Slater calls, “One of the most dangerous times for anyone dealing with depression or mental health issues.” Once people have found housing, on their own or with the support of one of FCS’s programs, its Housing & Emergency Support Services (HESS) is available for emergency financial assistance, whether it is a security deposit or an unpaid utility bill. HESS also provides short-term case management. “Our goal is not to help someone and see them back every year,” says Slater. “We want to dig in and get to the root cause to be sure it doesn’t happen again.” This article was originally published to highlight theDecember 2014 theme of Housing and Emergency Preparedness. Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.