How to Open a Youth Homelessness Shelter

by Delores Williams
HUD and FHA both deal primarily with providing housing.

HUD and FHA both deal primarily with providing housing.

A homeless youth shelter is one of the most noble works you could take on, but it is also filled with challenges. Getting an organization set up can almost be more taxing than running it, but there are a few secrets that can help smooth the way. Runaways need a safe place to go, or they will generally end up homeless for years, criminals, drug addicts or prostitutes. By offering a safe haven, an organization of offering them a chance for a better life.

Initial Steps to Opening a Youth Homeless Shelter

Research the need. Looking at the whole problem can seem daunting, but breaking it down to your community makes it more manageable. Questions you should consider include: is your city a haven for runaways? Is there already an effective program for homeless youth in your area? Will the community support a homeless shelter? What will be the impact on the community in regards to property values?

Network with business leaders, city officials and residents. Good public relations goes a long way. The point is to avoid the "not in our backyard" anthem that is sung in communities around the country. If you can get the community behind you before you start, it will go a long way.

Research license requirements. Serving youth can be complex because of the laws that must be in place. For example, sexual offenders, regardless of age will generally not be allowed. Or, the property has to be so large, with so many bathrooms, bedrooms, closets, calories per meal and educational requirements. Find out exactly what must be done for the facility to be in compliance. Of course, the majority of the licenses will also differ based on the size of the facility. A group home type compared to a 500 bed facility will have vastly different requirements.

Research grant options. Though grants should not be the only option for a youth homeless shelter, it can be useful. Of course, with grants also comes strings such as what types of services that can be offered and whom they can be offered to. You can generally find a good grant writer to assist you.

Start providing services. While waiting to get the grants or facility, it may be a good idea to start offering services to homeless youth such as meals, a place to shower or referrals to other agencies. Trust has to be built with you, because it is not just an issue of open it and they will come. If you have built a relationship in the community, where people know where they can send youth in need, then it will be easier.

The Nults and Bults of Building a Youth Homeless Shelter

Decide on a model. There are multiple types of shelters, even for youth. The cost of operating them can run from $3 to $40 per night per person. A. Staffed shelter: This is the most expensive and includes full services. B. Volunteer: Utilizes a full volunteer staff. C. Self-managed: Homeless govern themselves through one location. D. Mixed model: Mixture of all the above. E. Day center: Not used for sleep, but rest and case management during the day.

Locate multiple buildings that are for sale or lease. This is going to be a tough find, so look for multiple types and locations. Depending on the type of program you want to have, this can be a home or an actual warehouse.

Check the zoning laws. All the networking is going to pay off here. If you have chosen a home, you will have to convince the zoning board that there will not be major disruptions in the neighborhood like huge food trucks on a daily basis. You will generally need to prove that you have a right to use the location in the manner that you intend. If it is a homeless shelter, you must declare it. The less people you serve, the easier to get the proper zoning permits.

Get insured. You will have to have insurance for the facility. If you are in partnership with another organization they may the shelter to their policy. The premiums will depend on what kind of youth you have, the type of staff and location of the facility.

Decide referral or drop in. Depending on the type of youth shelter model you have chosen you may want to limit your youth to those referred to you by other agencies. The drawback is that it depends solely on agencies wanting to send people to your program. The self-referral is the norm. If you have taken the time to build relationships with the street kids, it may be easier for them to go in for the night.

Tip

  • Fill out the sample application provided in the resource section. If you can get all this information, then you should be able to apply to any program.

Warning

  • Other agencies that serve youth may not take kindly to a new agency if it is not handled well.

About the Author

Delores Williams is an author/ new media strategist. She has written over 500 articles on a variety of topics over the past ten years. Her work has been published by Oxford Press, online, and in newspapers around the Country. She is a graduate of Lee University.

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