If you don’t know life without a roof and four walls around you, you may not think much about the blessing of your home. But if you lived through homelessness, you might be familiar with the profound vulnerability of lacking these walls and a roof, with no home to call your own.
To help people transition away from the deep vulnerability of homelessness, different organizations develop all kinds of homeless shelters. Because the homeless population is full of diverse people from every background, establishing homeless shelters that all look and function the same is not effective. Instead, people and organizations that understand the various needs of the homeless population formed different shelters with different purposes and rules. While some types of shelters have commonalities between one another, each kind has its own distinct elements. To learn more about the many different types of homeless shelters, read this guide to eight of them.
People often lose their homes suddenly and without warning. This could be for a bevy of reasons, two of the most common reasons being a natural disaster impacting their home or experiencing abuse from someone close them. Whether their home is not safe or completely taken away, emergency housing can help fill the gap.
Typically, emergency shelters function as day shelters, meaning that temporary residents can stay there at night but also during the day. Their ability to do so keeps them out of harm’s way should the environment outside be unsafe. This is noteworthy because some homeless shelters don’t allow sustained daytime stays. Emergency shelters are most common in war-torn regions with large refugee populations.
Domestic Violence or Women’s Shelters
As a subset of emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters house those experiencing intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic abuse. They often overlap with women’s shelters because women aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 experience the highest rates of domestic abuse by far. These shelters commonly house women and their children, many of whom are also abuse victims.
To assist these women and families beyond housing, many domestic violence facilities provide counseling services, resources, and education about relationship dynamics. Counseling covers ways to identify an abusive relationship and separate from a currently abusive partner, also allowing kids to utilize these services to process through their abuse experiences
The Prototypical Homeless Shelter
Technically, emergency shelters are distinct from homeless shelters, though they also provide housing for the homeless. This is because emergency shelters are for time-bound circumstances rather than for those afflicted by chronic homelessness. The prototypical homeless shelter has a couple of notable differences, and before examining homeless shelter variations, it’s best to understand how a homeless shelter typically functions.
First, while emergency shelters allow people to stay throughout the day, many homeless shelters don’t allow people to stay, at least in certain areas. In order to clean shelters and allow for potential new residents, the previous night’s residents must leave at a certain time or go to a common area. In communities where homelessness is high, this allows people who didn’t get a chance the night before to cycle through.
Also, homeless shelters provide other resources to guests. They receive dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. Guests benefit from a shower and a fresh change of clothes to supplement anything they lack. For those looking for a job, something people are encouraged to do, homeless shelters offer help finding one, as well as help saving once people do get a job. And as they go, guests may receive bulk hygiene kits and other mobile resources to help them during their time on the street.
While many homeless shelters have many of these elements, some homeless shelters have certain distinctive characteristics. For one, faith-based shelters introduce residents to their values and beliefs during their stay. Some shelters have people view a short sermon before taking part in meals or receiving a ticket for a bed. While the purpose isn’t mainly to proselytize homeless guests, these faith-based programs want to show guests the faith that motivates the shelter to help people and which gives people hope.
Meanwhile, youth-specific shelters house young people in an attempt to help them redirect their lives. Young people connect with these shelters and often stay for extended periods of time as they receive various counseling services and prepare to transition out. Youth shelters have social workers and counselors specifically dedicated to filling in practical education gaps and promoting the self-sufficiency of young adults. The goal of these facilities is to intervene early while young adults are still developing in order to set a foundation for their successful and happy lives.
Another different type of homeless shelter is the family shelter. While youth shelters only take in young adults, family homeless shelters dedicate themselves to keeping all kinds of families together even when they lack a home. Many family shelters ostensibly look like women’s shelters, though some family shelters allow men with children and two-parent families the opportunity to stay. These family shelters are distinct in that, rather than keep men away, they welcome them in with their children rather than force them to stay on the street.
Although somewhat controversial, wet shelters house people overnight even if they come in drunk instead of forcing people to quit drinking and taking drugs cold-turkey. While some criticize this approach, it does prevent sudden and potentially lethal alcohol withdrawals while introducing people to a system that can help. These wet shelters give people a place to stay when they experience abuse while dependent on drugs or alcohol. As a relatively modern phenomenon, wet shelters may continue to spread across the country.
Departing a bit from prototypical homeless shelters, transitional housing affords people more comfortable and private housing that’s temporary in nature and yet allows them time to recover from trauma and restart their life. The idea behind transitional housing is that it provides previously homeless people with resources that orient them away from homelessness. This involves giving job assistance, providing financial and other types of counseling, and finding affordable housing for them. Youth and other shelters could fall into the category of transitional housing.
Permanent Supportive Housing
The most established form of housing assistance is permanent supportive housing. This option provides affordable housing to those who can’t afford much even though they have a job. The model gives people secure and private living spaces for a percentage of their income rather than a set amount each month. This arrangement gives people the chance to gain experience as a tenant while benefitting from social services in place which supports them. Permanent supportive housing can be for anyone, or with the purpose of specifically assisting a certain demographic of people in need.