Skip to Content

7 Biggest Challenges of Opening & Operating a Homeless Shelter

Homelessness affects more than half a million Americans on any given night. But from 2007, homelessness has reduced by 15 percent. Communities and even states across the country have announced that they have ended veteran and chronic homelessness.

According to reliable reports, at least 2.5 to 3.5 million Americans per year are sleeping in shelters, transitional housing, and public places not meant for human habitation. About 7.4 million more individuals are displaced from their homes due to economic reasons.

In recent years, reports have explained and expanded how homelessness causes severe trauma to children and youths, disrupting their relationships, putting their health and safety at risk, and hampering their development.

Homeless children, for example, are more likely than other children to have physical and mental health problems and experience hunger and malnutrition. Emotional distress, developmental delays, and decreased academic achievement are also more common in this population of children.

A good number of these children and youth experience deep poverty, instability, and exposure to domestic violence before becoming homeless, and homelessness increases their vulnerability to additional trauma.

A homeless shelter is known to start with a group of individuals who want to establish a plan to help people in the community who need shelter. This idea more or less graduates into a plan to put up a homeless shelter.

Most homeless shelters are being funded by sponsors such as hospitals, companies, professionals, and individuals. Also, note that organizations that manage homeless shelters (or sponsor them) create events that can benefit homeless individuals.

For adequately funded homeless shelters, they are able to provide programs for homeless people so that they will feel that they belong to the community. Most shelters allow individuals to stay in for the night or a couple of days. Exceeding the allowable number of days will mean having to pay for each night after.

What are the Biggest Challenges to Opening or Operating a Homeless Shelter?

A homeless shelter is a place that provides more than the basic needs of the homeless individuals. For as long as we can remember, these institutions also stand as a beacon of hope and strength for homeless people. Nonetheless, here are some of the challenges of opening and running a homeless shelter in the United States;

  1. Inadequate Funding

50 percent of homeless shelters are Government-funds based, and the rest of the 50 percent are non-profit shelter systems. Most times, shelters require a fee, which is sometimes received out of generosity from the rich or well-organized people. You might have seen a lot of signs and brochures that emphasize “Raise money for the poor” and other charity-related sayings. Someone just donates the money to the funding program, and all that money is transferred to the homeless shelters.

  1. Location

One of the initial steps in starting a homeless shelter is finding a large and viable location. Also the exact location a shelter will be located has an enormous effect on the cost of construction. If you decide to build a homeless shelter in high end cities like New York, you should expect to pay a lot more than average; it may cost you almost $120 per square foot. For a homeless shelter in Dallas, expect to be at the lower end of the scale – around $80 – $98 per square foot.

  1. Overcrowding

Homeless shelters often become overcrowded with a huge number of needy people. In government fund-based programs, the homeless shelter providers only have to write a plea, and they receive permission to open another funds-based franchise, which is run through government funds.

Have it in mind that this theory is almost the same in public funds-based homeless shelters. The public donates the money, and another franchise for homeless shelters begins.

  1. Not Having Enough Equipment

Indeed there is a significant need to provide for the homeless population in the United States. In fact, as a large majority of the shelters are specific for women and children, there is an even greater challenge to identify shelters that men can access. But regardless of gender, the items that many shelters need are bottled water, new underwear, and socks, gift cards from chain stores for shoes, personal grooming products such as deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, brushes, tissues, toilet paper, feminine hygiene, travel size soap and shampoo, baby wipes, sleeping bags and reading glasses. At the top of the needs list for shelters are toiletries, portable privacy screens, twin bed sheets, towels, and new socks.

  1. Ensuring Feeding and Health Program

Every homeless shelter organization needs a well oiled feeding program on a regular basis, wherein they support a certain community particularly the elderly and abandoned children. Most times, children from well-to-do families are advised to take part in such programs to enrich their minds with a positive attitude and to nurture compassion to help the less fortunate.

The homeless are also often sick, most notably because of poor hygiene. With the help of homeless shelters, homeless individuals are provided basic necessities and taught on how to take care of themselves. Those with medical conditions are given proper care and medication with the help of hospital sponsors and health professionals.

  1. Paperwork

Although starting a homeless shelter can be done with the very purest of intentions, it is still a business and it is expected to maintain a business license and other necessary paperwork in order to operate legally. You will be expected to contact your local courthouse or other shelters to find out what paperwork you will need in order to operate a shelter that can legally receive donations and government grants.

  1. Proper Hygiene

One of the primary concerns among homeless shelters is bed bugs. This is particularly where beds are often used by different people and may not have been cleaned often. Also, there have been reports on the infestation, but most homeless shelters try to get rid of these parasites to keep the place safe for people inside.

Right before staying in their individual beds, homeless individuals are expected to take a shower. The staff will provide them with clean towels, soap, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. When it is time to sleep, a clean sheet and pillow will be provided.


Indeed it takes more than just money to keep a homeless shelter running. Most definitely, monetary donations give shelters the most flexibility to direct their resources where they need, but only accepting money and dis-incentivizing in-kind donations can cut shelters off from valuable resources.

It is very important to know exactly what items you do need in order to minimize wasteful donations. If you have very specific requirements, speak up! Even if all of your messaging makes it clear that financial donations are your organization’s first choice, it is good to have publicly available resources for in-kind donors to ensure that what does come in the door is usable.