Housing Options for the Homeless

By Amy Fontinelle. May 7th 2016

If you’re facing homelessness or know someone who is, you may be wondering where to turn for shelter. A number of federal and local government agencies, as well as private charitable organizations, provide support to homeless individuals and families who need a place to live until they get their lives back together.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Homeless Assistance Programs

HUD offers several programs to provide shelter for the homeless and to address the underlying issues that cause homelessness.

-The Supportive Housing Program provides grants to states, local government units, other governmental entities and private nonprofit organizations. Grant recipients can use the funds to provide permanent housing for disabled homeless persons, transitional housing for able-bodied homeless persons for up to 24 months or support services for homeless who are sheltered elsewhere.

-The Shelter Plus Care Program assists the disabled homeless through rental assistance and support services. This program considers mental illness, substance abuse and AIDS to be disabilities.

-The Single Room Occupancy Program turns residential properties into group homes where each occupant has his or her own room. The residential property must be partially rehabilitated to receive federal funding. Property owners must invest at least $3,000 per unit, including a prorated share of work that’s done on common areas.

-The Emergency Solutions Grant Program helps families re-establish themselves in permanent housing. It also provides street outreach, emergency shelter services and homelessness prevention services.

-Finally, the Title V program provides grant money to state and local government entities and to private nonprofits that use surplus federal properties to provide services to the homeless. Service providers don’t have to pay rent on these properties, provided that they use the real estate to provide shelter, assistance services or storage services to the homeless population.

Assistance for Homeless Veterans

HUD, the Veteran’s Administration and community organizations, work together to assist homeless veterans with transitional housing, permanent housing and other needs. Federal vouchers help veterans secure rental housing, and case managers help veterans improve their circumstances. Special programs focus on women, disabled veterans and veterans who have recently returned from combat. Also, some properties secured by VA mortgages that are foreclosed on are sold at a discount to organizations that shelter homeless veterans. Call 1-877-4AID-VET to find local resources offered to homeless veterans.


ShelterListings.org is an online directory to help homeless and low-income persons locate homeless shelters, supportive housing, low-income housing, halfway housing, transitional housing, day shelters and low-cost housing in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Day shelters provide a place to stay for homeless people whose regular shelters are only available overnight. Emergency shelters are designed for stays of fewer than three months.

Halfway houses help individuals transition out of homelessness and may require a monthly financial contribution. Supportive housing assists those whose problems extend beyond homelessness, by providing housing in addition to case management, supervision, employment assistance and other services. ShelterListings.org has more information about the different options available to the homeless, as well as which ones are available in your area.

Finding the Best Option for You

Many facilities that offer housing to the homeless have specific niches, such as women only, men only, women and children, alcoholism or substance abuse recovery, says Chantay Bridges, a board member for House 2 Home, a women’s transitional shelter in Los Angeles.

To track down the available options in your area, it’s helpful to have a computer with Internet access. Bridges suggests going to a library if you don’t have your own computer. Caregivers, physicians, psychiatrists, pastors, community leaders and government employees are also good people to ask about homeless housing options in the area, she says.

The more desirable programs tend to have waiting lists, Bridges says, but “it’s best to go into another program while adding your name to the waiting list for your first choice.” She adds that many programs have strict rules and guidelines, so once you’re accepted, it’s up to you to make sure you can remain in the program.

Scott H. Silverman, founder of the nonprofit Second Chance, a San Diego-based human services agency committed to breaking the cycle of unemployment, poverty and homelessness, says it can be more or less challenging to find housing depending on the community, climate and time of month. For example, because many homeless are paid on the first of the month and run out of money by mid-month, there is more demand for shelters in the second half of the month.


Homeless housing can present numerous safety concerns, which vary depending on the particular program. Bridges says women-only programs carry less risk of rape. A program that provides help to clients with substance abuse problems may have participants who are prone to steal.

Silverman adds, “The safety concerns of homeless housing arise from the fact that you have a bunch of strangers in a new and unknown environment.”

While it’s important to be cautious, fears over safety aren’t a reason to avoid seeking support.

“The risks are there, but so are the opportunities for help, recovery and assistance,” Bridges says.

Additional Information

Many homeless shelters provide housing to very low-income individuals - you need not be jobless and broke. In addition, many shelters offer free or low-cost meals - as well as supportive services, such as skill development and counseling - to help the homeless increase their incomes and gain greater control over their lives. 


From public agencies to private entities, there are many housing and shelter options for those facing both short- and long-term homelessness. Furthermore, many of these assistance groups provide meals and supportive services to help those with little to no income and nowhere to live. With the right program, you or someone you care about will be able to get back on their feet and afford their expenses while moving toward living in their own homes again.



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