Reasons the Homeless Avoid Shelters
The deeper I dig, the more questions I have. Being I know I have these questions; I am sure others do as well. Follow me on my journey to cover every aspect of homelessness and domestic violence. How it affects men, women, and families. I will not cover just the problems, stigmas, and education but solutions that have worked worldwide and how you can help. Helping doesn't require a monetary donation or volunteering. Sharing an article and helping bring awareness is equally important. Doing all three is something everyone would love for you to do.
To start out, I want to cover why many homeless avoid shelters, to begin with. There are many great organizations listed on this site that help and support, yet many avoid these places for many reasons. Many, myself included, would think the reasons would be:
- Limited hours that require early check-in and early check-out - Many with jobs are not able to work with these rules and why they live in their automobiles
- Specific rules that must be followed
- Lack of sanitation
- Infestation with bugs or rodents
- Dangerous people already using the shelter
- Problems with theft - for the homeless everything they carry is everything they own. Losing even one item can take them further away from a path of recovery
- Enforced sobriety rules
- Costs - not all shelters are free for those in need. They may be given a certain number of nights with no rent but eventually that can run out.
- Being banned from the shelter previously
- Limited capacity - there isn't an unlimited number of beds available. There could be empty beds, but they may be reserved for men, women, or children. If all of the men beds are filled and the other beds are available, they still may not be able to stay due to this reason.
- Shelter is shutdown - Shelters are not kept open all year round. They are only allowed to be open a limited number of nights per year.
- No pets - many homeless have pets as their only source of comfort.
That seems like a pretty comprehensive list but is not the entire story. As I look, read, and watch videos about homelessness, I am finding these are some of the key reasons:
- Social stigma: If a person has a vehicle or (even better) a camper they can use, then parking in some random parking lot for the night is more socially acceptable than sleeping at a shelter.
- Employment: If you're serious about acquiring or maintaining employment, staying at the shelter can be a terrible idea. People talk, and word gets around. If your employer finds out you are staying at the shelter, he or she may decide to eliminate you due to the perceived risks associated with hiring a 'homeless person.' This is regardless of how long you've worked for that employer or how good your work has been and continues to be.
- Abuse: Anyone running from an abusive relationship will be trying to find a safe place where they cannot be found. Shelters are not safe places for people running from a stalker, domestic violence, or similar threat of violence. It's too easy to be seen AND for the abuser to enter the premises of a shelter. If a bed in a battered women's shelter is not available…or if the individual is male (men face abuse too)…then the standard adult shelter may be exceptionally unsafe.
- Children: Even shelters that accommodate families with children can be hazardous for kids and teens. Depending on the situation, the number of people using the facility, and the way the shelter is managed, a parent may assess the situation and decide that it is simply too dangerous for the kids.
- Discrimination: Shelters are often run by private non-profits and religious organizations. Therefore, some of these shelters feel they have the right to require anyone who uses their services to participate in their particular brand of religion. They also believe they have the right to deny assistance to anyone they consider to be "immoral" – this includes people who are LGBT, devoted practitioners of other religions, members of races or ethnicities the group dislikes, and pretty much anything else. Sometimes a court case will be brought against a shelter for doing this sort of thing, but finding (paying) a lawyer is extremely difficult for all poverty survivors, even more so for homeless people.
- Forced Adoption or Abortion: There are 'shelters' that 'help' pregnant women by providing care during the pregnancy with the aggressively enforced assumption that those women will give their children up for adoption (arranged by the shelter, through their network of lawyers and other adoption professionals, all of whom get a cut of the final sale…sorry…adoption). Sometimes these same shelters will do everything in their power to force women to abort babies that are difficult to adopt out (e.g., they are not a popular racial mix). Bottom line? Word gets around, and pregnant women who have found themselves homeless will go to extreme lengths to avoid these places with good reason – even when other shelters refuse to provide services to pregnant women.
The reasons are truly endless, and one cannot blame these individuals for feeling this way. Our society has been trained to avoid the homeless population, that they are to be ignored (e.g., invisible), and that the problem will magically go away. They should not be. They deserve the same basic rights as the rest of us. Through education, we can start to accept these differences and help them. Together, we can be "Part of the Solution."