Greater awareness, more resources and affordable housing are needed to tackle a COVID-19-induced rise in visible homelessness in some parts of rural Southwestern Ontario, advocates say.

Parts of Huron, Perth and Oxford counties have all noticed an increase in people experiencing homelessness since the pandemic began nine months ago, But a national advocacy group says “hidden homelessness” has been pervasive in small towns and remote communities for years — and it’s time to tackle it.

“Homelessness is just as prevalent in rural communities as it is in urban centres, and so it speaks to this hidden issue,” said Terrilee Kelford, co-chair of the National Alliance to End Rural and Remote Homelessness. “COVID certainly has elevated the conversation.”

Kelford said in the past, rural and remote communities were better at concealing homelessness, but the pandemic has made it visible.