Homeless shelter

Homeless shelter
The Peachtree-Pine shelter in Atlanta, Georgia

Homeless shelters are temporary residences for homeless people which seek to protect vulnerable populations from the often devastating effects of homelessness while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact on the community. They are similar to but distinguishable from various type of emergency shelters, which are typically operated for specific circumstances and populations - fleeing natural disasters or abusive social circumstances. Extreme variants of "normal" weather create problems similar to disaster management scenarios, and are handled with warming centers, which typically operate for short duration during adverse weather.

Homeless shelters tend to a "one-size-fits-all" model, but there is frequently a separate shelter system for families and for youth. [1] Both "generic" and the specialized shelters typically expect clients to exit in the morning and occupy themselves elsewhere during the day, returning for an evening meal and to sleep. Curfews vary widely but tend to be at an earlier hour than adults typically might return to a home.

There are also daytime-only homeless shelters, where the homeless can go when they cannot stay inside at their nighttime sleeping shelter during the day. Such an early model of a daytime homeless shelter providing multi-faceted services is Saint Francis House in Boston, Massachusetts which was officially founded in 1984. It was based on the settlement house, clubhouse and community center support and social service models.

In Australia, due to government funding requirements, most homelessness services fill the role of both daytime and nighttime shelters. Shelters develop empowerment based "wrap around" services in which clients are case managed and supported in their efforts to become self reliant. An example of such a service provider in this area in Australia is Najidah.


Operations and Role in Society

Homeless shelters are usually operated by a non-profit agency or a municipal agency, or are associated with a church. They almost always have Section 501(c)3 corporate organization with a Board of Directors pulled from various sectors of the community. Often, such Boards include clergy, elected officials,and even shelter clientele and people from the surrounding community.

Homeless shelters often provide other services to the community at large. The classic example is the soup kitchen for persons who are not staying at the shelter. Others include support groups, and/or substance abuse treatment. If they do not offer any of these services, they can usually refer their clients to agencies that do. Supportive housing integrates services in a more assertive fashion. The typical pathway through the interlocking system is that a person may start in a shelter and move through transitional housing into supportive housing and finally independent housing.

Centers in the United States are also often coordinated with outside programs both for their mission-specific operations and for ancillary services. For communication of their availability, most coordinate with the Federally mandated 2-1-1 or the 3-1-1 phone information system which allow needy persons to find out where shelters are located.[citation needed] For transportation to shelters, some offer free transportation,[15] particularly in cases of persons being released from jail. Some jails have specific staff assigned to placement of persons being released.[citation needed]

Alternative Models and Management Philosophies

Empowerment Model

Some shelters propose "empowerment models", where instead of serving "clients", they empower "participants". The goal is to become agents in their own futures and destinies.[citation needed]

Such models tend to focus on assisting participants to access their rights and to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens. Sometimes this includes contributing financially towards the provision of the shelters they are residing in. In Australia, legislation requires those residing in Government funded shelters to contribute a figure similar to 25% of their own income, in return for support and accommodation. Consequently, many shelters in Australia rely on participant contributions for as much as 20% of their budgets.[2]

A Catholic Worker Model

Another interesting model is Dorothy's Place in Salinas, CA. It is actually a day center which coordinates with multiple church and synagogue congregations to link up to night time shelter opportunities. Dorothy's Place is closely affiliated with various faith based community service groups. Among these is the Franciscan Worker and Companions of the Way Interfaith Dharma community. They propose that they are in search of "possibilitarians", a theme resonating with the prominent ministry of "possibility thinking" promoted by Reformed Church of America minister Reverend Robert Schuller.


The NIMBY is seldom more in evidence than with regard to homeless shelters. Yet, the community attitude towards homeless shelters varies widely.[citation needed] In communities such as Portland, Oregon, where the weather can be quite harsh, there is an extensive network of supporters. These operate an informal restaurant, the "Sisters of the Road" cafe, which supports both homeless shelter clientele and also some unsheltered persons. At the opposite end of the spectrum, jurisdictions such as Santa Barbara, California, feature ongoing disputes in an often highly adversarial mode. [3] Disputes have even reached such schemes as re-arranging benches on city sidewalks to discourage panhandlers. In another 2011 incident, an eight unit supportive housing project which had been approved was called back onto city council agenda the following week in order to allow approximately 35 public comments pro and con, despite the fact that the measure had just been approved.

There have at times been concerns raised about the transmission of diseases in the homeless population housed in shelters, although public health professionals contend that such concerns are inflated.[4][5] A question has been raised as to just how much money donated to the charities that run the shelters actually gets to the homeless person and the needed services. In many cases, there is a large overhead in administrative costs, which compromise the money for their homeless clients.[6]

Internal problems in homeless shelters

There is sometimes corruption and theft by the employees of a shelter as evidenced by a 2011 investigative report by FOX 25 TV in Boston wherein a number of Boston public shelter employees were found stealing large amounts of food over a period of time from the shelter's kitchen for their private use and catering.[7][8]

See also


  1. ^ The Oasis - A Shark Island Productions Film
  2. ^ Najidah Association Inc. Annual report, 2007.
  3. ^ Santa Barbara Independent, January 2011
  4. ^ Najidah Association Inc. Annual return to the Dept. of Communities 2006
  5. ^ "Occupational Exposure to Tuberculosis". OSHA notice. 1997. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=13923&p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER. 
  6. ^ O'Brien, James (August 13, 2007). "The high price of giving: Boston nonprofits shell out for strong CEOs, some say online numbers misleading". Boston Now newspaper. p. 3. http://www.bostonnow.com/news/local/2007/08/13/the_high_price_of_giving/. [dead link]
  7. ^ Beaudet, Mike, "FOX Undercover: Employees implicated in thefts from local homeless", FOX 25 TV, Boston, Tuesday, 22 Feb 2011
  8. ^ Smith,Stephen, "Shelter kitchen theft prevalent, report says", The Boston Globe, February 23, 2011


Further reading

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