Effectiveness of Homeless Shelters

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A shelter is a basic human need that can protect individuals from a number of hazards. With rising housing costs and a shortage of affordable housing, many people are in danger of not being able to acquire and maintain adequate shelter, causing them to become homeless. One of the first safety nets for the homeless population comes in the form of homeless shelters. They are often the first line of defense to combat the hardships that come inherent to homelessness. However, not all homeless shelters are created the same, and many individuals avoid some shelters all together. This article will be a review of the current state of homeless shelters in the United States, and how effectively they execute their purpose.

The benefit of homeless shelters cannot be understated. They are a critical resource for the homeless population where they can seek immediate shelter, especially during dangerous weather condition, such as freezing temperatures. In addition to the obvious benefits, homeless shelters provide access to a variety of emergency services that can help to reduce the length of stay at homeless shelters. Homeless shelters also provide basic necessities, such as hygiene products, clean clothes, a place to shower, and a place to eat meals.
Additionally, homeless shelters and their staff, routinely provide other critical types assistance. For instance, the shelter may help the residents figure out which government benefits they qualify for, and how to apply to them. Shelters may also have computers and Wi-Fi access, which enables the residents to apply for benefit programs, such as social security. Furthermore, shelters can help residents gain access to important programs, such as resources for substance abuse, that can help them escape homelessness. Shelters may also be able to provide assistance to purchase household items such as food and hygiene products. Homeless shelters are a system of support for the homeless community rather than just a place to stay for the night.

While homeless shelters are a critical resource for the homeless population, they are not all perfect. One of the main complaints surrounding homeless shelters, and reasons why some may avoid them, are the barriers to gaining access to the shelters. Some shelters have restrictive barriers that do not allow many individuals to access their services. Some of the restrictions include: single-sex shelter rules, sobriety rules, minimum income requirements, criminal background checks, restrictions not allowing pets, among others. These restrictions leave many individuals in the homeless population unable to access the shelter and all of the accompanying benefits. Moreover, shelters are sometimes even forced to separate families due to restrictions on who are allowed to stay there.

In addition to the restrictive rules, many homeless shelters have hours that are incompatible with work hours. Many homeless individuals have jobs, which make it difficult to secure a shelter spot. Moreover, shelters are in high demand, which require you to wait in long lines to secure a bed. Many who work are unable to wait in lines, and therefore unable to secure a shelter spot. Furthermore, those who work night shift are not able to access the benefits of overnight shelters.

One of the ways that shelters can be improved is an increase in funding as well as the amount of beds available. Additionally, shelters can also transition to a 24/7 model, instead of only sheltering individuals over-night. This will allow the homeless residents to have reliable and consistent access to all of the shelter resources. Shelters can also reduce barriers of entry to the shelter. For example, shelters can change rules so they do not turn away prospective residents due to sobriety concerns, minimum income requirements, or a criminal history.
Finally, one of the main ways to increase effectiveness of shelters is to adopt a housing-first model. Many people utilize the shelter system, but if they are not provided services to move to permeant housing, they may become stuck within the shelters. One way to improve shelters is to provide resources to residents so they may transition into more permanent housing. Shelters should therefore focus on a housing-first model that focuses on reducing the stay of the residents while offering immediate access to permanent and supportive housing. Ideally, shelters should try to resolve a person’s homelessness, while meeting their basic needs. They are not just a place to stay for the night, but a critical resource to get individuals and families connected to the various resources and get them back in to stable, permanent housing.


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