National estimates of homelessness are hard to measure, and there has not been a reliable head count in the past few years. According a 2007 report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, nearly 3.5 million people will experience homelessness in a given year, and 1.35 million of those people are children.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, Homeless families are a growing segment of the homeless population due to the high cost of housing and a lack of affordable housing in the United States. Many families have to turn to homeless shelters in their time of need.
Being forced to contend with homelessness is obviously traumatic, but it can also be confusing as well. People who experience chronic homelessness are usually well aware of the unique language of the experience. However, if an individual is experiencing the situation for the first time, a couple of common concepts may need to be made clear.
Emergency Shelter/Night Shelter/Overflow Shelter
When homeless families or individuals need a place to sleep immediately, to keep them out of the elements, emergency shelters are designed to fill the need.
Emergency shelters are what immediately come to mind when most people think about homeless shelters. They have the tendency to be dirty and dangerous because of their transient nature, but some emergency shelters try hard to keep their premises clean and safe.
Society is often critical of emergency shelters, because they do not address the hard-core issues that cause homelessness. They only offer a warm bed at night, and they generally require clients to be out of the shelter in the early morning hours. However, sometimes, a warm place to sleep can save a life during the winter season.
A day shelter provides a resting place for weary homeless people during the daylight hours. Some day shelters provide access to telephones, personal hygiene products, and access to showers.
Many times, a day shelter will operate a soup kitchen or provide snacks in between local area soup kitchen serving schedules.
Family shelters exist to address the specific needs of homeless families. To access a family shelter, there is generally an intake process, and sometimes a family can be referred, or “vouchered in” by a local social service agency or crisis agency.
Family shelters often include meals, child-care, case management, access to job training programs, educational opportunities, and access to transitional housing programs once the initial shelter stay is complete, and all self sufficiency requirements have been met.
Transitional shelters often address the needs of homeless families, and individuals who are transitioning from shelter life. Because self sufficiency is so fragile for many people who experience chronic homelessness, transitional shelters seek to offer clients a stable platform as they move back into a traditional housing setting.
Some transitional housing programs offer further case management, child care, savings account assistance (some even provide a small match to their client’s efforts), financial education, credit repair education, parenting education, and many other self sufficiency services.
Domestic Violence Shelter
Domestic violence shelters, or DV shelters, provide housing to women and children who have experienced an act or repeated acts of domestic violence. Some DV shelters offer their services to men who have been abused by their significant other as well.
The location of a domestic violence is confidential because clients need to be kept safe from their abusers. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman (or man) is most at risk when they try to escape, or have already escaped, their abuser.
DV shelters are often provide trained counselors, legal advocates to help with orders of protection, divorce, child custody and other legal matters, and self sufficiency services.
Domestic violence shelters are often accessible by calling state wide domestic violence hotlines, crisis hotlines, and police and sheriff’s departments. Most domestic violence shelters accept entire families with underage children who have been made homeless by an act of violence.
After Care Services
After Care can include any self sufficiency service offered to clients after they have departed from a homeless shelter, transitional housing shelter, or domestic violence shelter.
In addition, there are also shelters that address the specific needs of single men, single women, people in substance abuse recovery, and refugees.
If you need help to find a local homeless shelter, please contact a local crisis hotline, social service agency, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
– Sources –
National Coalition for the Homeless
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “Homelessness in the United States and the Human Right to Housing,” (January, 2004).