Emergency Shelters in the U.S.


Roughly 0.17% of American’s population is homeless. This statistic means that each day around 554,000 people are living on the streets without shelter from the elements or food to eat.

In 1987, President Ronald Regan signed into law the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This law provides federal funding for homeless shelters around the country. Originally it contained fifteen programs including the Continuum of Care Programs: The Supportive Housing Program, the Shelter Plus Care Program, and the Single Room Occupancy Program, as well as the Emergency Shelter Grant Program.

Homeless shelters offer much more than just a place to stay. They provide hot meals, showering facilities, clean beds and a whole host of programs designed to help homeless people get back on their feet. Some of the ways they do this is through education, job placement, and training, financial assistance with rent and other resources.

How to Access a Homeless Shelter

If you one of the many American’s who have no place to sleep, the first step is to find a homeless shelter. You can call 211 from any phone and receive assistance that way. You can also access the website HomelessShelterDirectory.org, and that can help you find the closest available resources for your situation. In case of an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Once you locate the facility nearest you, you should first call them to see if they have any available beds. Some shelters have waiting lists. If they do have room, they will tell you to come in. If you do not have transportation to the facility, sometimes they can send someone to pick you up. Once you arrive, you will have to fill out a bit of paperwork and answer some questions. The intake procedure for each type of facility is different.

Certain shelters have age or gender restrictions. For example, there are shelters explicitly designed for mothers and children or young people under the age of 18. Some cater to pregnant women or domestic violence victims. Be sure to check any eligibility requirements before you travel to the facility to check-in.


Housing-Focused Shelters

The idea behind housing-focused shelters is that they don’t just provide temporary or short-term living arrangements for homeless people, they strive to end homelessness by helping individuals get back on their feet and find gainful employment and stable housing for a lifetime.

They do this by first being low-barrier (without a lot of restrictions or eligibility requirements) and then move the person through the system quickly to get them out of temporary shelter and into a permanent home. Some shelters use a coordinated entry system linked to other community resources, so the ball gets rolling the minute the individual is first admitted.

Some of the challenges shelters face when attempting to make this happen is housing all the services needed (storage, healthcare, employment services, hygiene centers, food, and other survival services) in one location making it easier for homeless people to access them. The key is being able to be flexible and versatile and serve as many demographics as you can without watering down the services.

The Difference Between a Shelter and Short-Term Family Housing

A shelter has a specific number of beds and sometimes cannot easily take in a whole family. It is designed as a dormitory-style living arrangement and intended to be very temporary sometimes housing people for only a single night or two.

Short-term family housing is meant to keep families together that are homeless and provide them with a short-term solution and assistance to quickly find permanent housing. The focus is on the children’s health and wellbeing along with continuing their education while homeless. Generally, short-term housing facilities also offer assistance with healthcare, clothing assistance, and food. Short-term family housing is structured more like apartments than a group shelter. They also provide longer-term stays (sometimes a few months) to help families find new homes.

Available Homeless Shelter Programs and Services in the U.S.

United States facilities offer a variety of services. Ending homelessness is not just about finding homes; it includes a myriad of other related services.

Some of the types of services and programs offered across the country are substance abuse programs, help with domestic violence, pregnancy and adoption, housing-assist programs, vocational training and employment assistance, medical and healthcare services, programs for teens and runaways, mental health services and support, and family violence prevention. Some areas also provide community integration and involvement, childcare and tribal assistance. In many cases, if they qualify, individuals can also take advantage of a security deposit and rental assistance to get a place of their own quickly and get off the streets for good.

Emergency shelter

The Impact of Donations in Numbers

Donations made to homeless shelters and programs are impactful. Generally, the government supplies only about 25% of the costs necessary to run a facility. The remainder comes from donations and volunteers giving their time to work for free.

Depending on the area, donations may go further or not as far, but these statistics tell a vivid story.

-         $315 will buy 350 hot meals, feeding 25 men or women for a week.

-         $128 pays for shelter for four nights for one man or woman.

-         $60 provides meals for everyone in the house for two nights.

-         Just $25 provides housing, a shower and a hot meal for a homeless person for one night.

-         Some shelters provide 80,000-150,000 nights of shelter.

-         Three hundred thousand meals are offered each year in one shelter.

-         Forty-one thousand articles of clothes are donated to a single shelter in a year.

-         Most shelters receive at least 28,000 volunteer hours from community members helping out.

-         On average 85 people call the Goodwill agency each night for help.

-         Thousands of children are saved from starvation every year by staying in shelters.

Regardless of the geographical area or situation, shelters are doing a fantastic job at helping to eliminate homelessness and profoundly changing the lives of people struggling on the streets. It is also clear that donations of money or time make all the difference to these organizations.