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Homeless Shelters: 7 Things You Need to Know

Are wondering what you need to know about homeless shelters? You are not alone, there are many others who are also curious. Homeless shelters and other locations can offer assistance for people seeking shelter, food, healthcare and other services. We have found some helpful answers for the most commonly asked questions! 

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Did you know that there are different types of housing resources available for those who are homeless? We have found the information you will need regarding who to contact, the assessment and referral process, what happens next if you are denied assistance and what to expect when arriving at a homeless shelter.

What are the different types of Homeless shelters? 

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There are 4 types of housing support services that focus on moving homeless individuals into the best independent and permanent housing as quickly as possibly.

  1. Emergency Homeless Shelters

These are facilities that people often turn to first when experiencing a financial or home crisis. These shelters provide access to services offering support and short term stabilization options to assist during the rehoming process.

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  1. Transitional Homeless Shelters 

Often called “interim shelters,” are programs that offer temporary residence for people who are experiencing homelessness. These shelters provide housing ranging from 6 to 24 months with access to employment and other supportive services designed to help individuals find a new home.

  1. Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) Homeless Shelters

RRH is a housing model designed to help individuals and families find homes as quickly as possible. This is considered a solution for non chronic homelessness that places families in rental apartments and provides temporary assistance with community support. These services offer case management and financial assistance.

  1. Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Homeless Shelters

PSH is a program dedicated to providing housing and other assistive services for formerly chronically homeless people seeking long-term help. PSH provides safe and stable housing for individuals with diagnosed disabilities and have continuously been homeless for 1 or more years. Those with physical or mental disabilities will be provided with permanent housing and intensive supportive care made accessible upon the individuals needs.

How do I contact a Homeless shelter?

First, try to contact the shelter system in your area. This may consist of calling a hotline or visiting a community organization dedicated to helping the homeless. Some helpful resources to contact include:

  • The Continuum of Care (CoC) is referred to as the “front door” homelessness service as it is designed to find shelters, housing, and meet needs for people all across the country. Use the HUD locator to help find services nearest you!
  • Your local 211 hotline offers access to individuals trained to help people in need find housing, health care, food, and other social programs. Call 211 or search online!
  • The National Coalition for the Homeless is a helpful website that offers information for those seeking help and access to resources. Visit to learn more!
  • Another option would be to contact your local department of human services, a church, non profit organization, or food pantry.

Will there be an assessment to find a Homeless shelter?

It is likely that an assessment will be given by a staff member at the location. This assessment will simply ask questions regarding your strengths and needs relative to others also seeking shelter. Questions may consist of your age, physical and mental health, how long you’ve been homeless, if you have children, your income, employment and criminal history. 

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Remember that these questions are not meant to disqualify you but to better assess your eligibility for certain services. The staff member is there to advocate for what is a best fit for you.

Will I need a referral to a Homeless shelter?

You may be referred to an available shelter bed following the assessment, but sometimes people are placed on a waiting list depending on the community guidelines. 

Housing resources may also be referred, including: rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, Section 8 or other types available in your area.

What happens if space is unavailable or I’m denied assistance at a Homeless shelter?

If space is unavailable or you are denied assistance, there are some other options that you should ask about. Some locations offer a hotel voucher upon request, although not all shelters and organizations are able to offer alternative options like this. You should also ask if there are other locations in the area that have availability or for more information in finding resources to look for yourself. 

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What should I expect when arriving at a Homeless shelter?

Each homeless shelter is different, but there are some things that can be expected for both a short term or long term stay, this would include:

  • Safe and private locations as safety is viewed as a first priority
  • Access to free homeless shelter programs
  • Transportation to the shelter as well as bus tokens or transportation to appointments
  • If children are involved, shelters will provide safety for them as well
  • Access to childcare be will available as necessary
  • Most shelters do not allow pets but will assist in finding a safe place for them to stay
  • Confidentiality of your information unless granted with your permission
  • Provide basic necessities including food, clothing and toiletries
  • Common areas for sleeping or shared bedrooms as well as kitchens and bathrooms
  • Facilities for laundry services and access to clean linens
  • Visitors are usually not allowed within the building

Find More Info About Homeless shelters Here!

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