The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) should explore opportunities to link housing and supportive services for the homeless in rural areas, according to a new report.

The recommendation comes after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) examination of rural homelessness in six states.

Officials found a number of barriers to accessing and providing homeless services in rural areas, including large service areas, dispersed populations, and a lack of transportation and affordable housing.

For example, many rural areas have only a small shelter serving a large area.

The report also points out that federal agencies have differing definitions of “homelessness” and “rural,” which limit the ability to understand the problem. It also makes it difficult to determine how much funding is going to the rural areas.

“The effects of limited collaboration may be particularly acute in rural areas because of the barriers,” says the report.

 The GAO conducted site visits in Arizona, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas.

More effective collaboration between the two departments “can create incentives and opportunities for homeless housing and supportive services to be linked, which is considered to be important for the effective delivery of assistance to persons experiencing homeless and to further reduce administrative challenges for local service providers,” says the report.