Sheltering Shelters

Sometimes shelters are amazing. They do incredible things to help people achieve housing quickly and appropriately. Sometimes shelters are the antithesis of ending homelessness. It is healthy to create a voice for people on the frontlines that are confronted with these challenges to share their experiences so that we can all understand where to support and push for reform. I invited Jessica Douglas to contribute to this blog based upon a recent experience. I hope it is illuminating for you and leads us all to greater examination and professional change in sheltering services when it is warranted. Thanks Jessica for such an important guest blog.


I’ve gone back and forth in my head all afternoon with different ways to go about writing this blog. Since this is my first blog, I wasn’t sure what was acceptable or what would get someone’s attention. But then it dawned on me – honesty. Yep. That’s what I came up with. Sounds pretty boring, but I’m going with it.

Let me start out by saying, I’m a pretty approachable person. Recently described by a co-worker as being calm and centered, today I was pushed to the brink of going completely unprofessional on another provider. In all of my professional adulthood, I have never wanted to go completely “postal” on another person. When is it acceptable for a provider to “shelter”, and I don’t mean put a roof over their head, an individual to the point where they can’t leave the facility to go have lunch with someone?

For a few months now, I’ve been out in the field, meeting with clients and other providers! I love it! It’s where I’m most comfortable: interacting with individuals on the streets and those who have been recently housed. What I do not like is providers who feel as if they are “protecting” their clients by monitoring their every move. How is this benefiting those individuals? Well, in my professional opinion, it’s not. It is, however, benefiting the facility because they are able to count them as widgets.

It’s not allowing them to grow as a human being, to give them the opportunity to obtain a job, meet new people (outside the facility), to find an apartment or a home. SAY WHAT?!? A JOB? A HOME? It’s as if those are words not to be discussed, because as I heard a resident say today in the lobby of this shelter (as he was signing 3 pages of rules), “This is my home away from home”.  How sad is it that this facility has residents thinking this is their final destination?

Today I was told I was not allowed to pick up a client because she didn’t have prior permission to leave the shelter. Mind you, this person did have permission to leave with me 2 hours later than when I tried to pick them up. I was told that she was not allowed to just leave whenever she wanted to that it had to be approved. Yep, you heard that right, a person who is not in JAIL or on HOME CONFINEMENT, has to have permission to come and go. Oh, and yes, this person is 18 years or older. This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues with picking this person up and taking them out to enjoy a nice day away from the shelter. Every single time she is dropped off she is interrogated by staff, and other residents, who want to know if she was given money and/or what did she do.

I was also told that I couldn’t just move her out whenever I wanted to, proper staff had to be present to make sure nothing left the shelter that wasn’t hers, meaning she couldn’t leave during the weekend. Without given a chance, they already expect the worst of the every person who walks through their door looking for a safe place to stay. They expect to be stolen from. They label everyone who enters, possibly in the midst of the worst crisis they will ever experience; being homeless and having no one must indicate that you are a thief.

The most disturbing thing I was told today, the thing that pushed me over the edge, is that we were “going behind their back”. We went behind their back to do what is best for this individual, move her out of a situation where they are hindering her ability to grow as a young adult, and moving her into STABLE HOUSING. SHOCKING, right? Why the best interest of this individual isn’t their top priority, I may never know. What I do know, we at WVCEH are doing the right thing, we are moving her out, into her own apartment at the end of the week where she will receive intensive case management by people who truly care about her and success.

About Jessica Douglas

8 Responses to “Sheltering Shelters”

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  1. Melanie says:

    The same exact thing happens at our shelter all the time! It is so frustrating, knowing these people could be finding stable permanent housing but are told they are not allowed to.

  2. Amy Truesdale says:

    These kind of policies are what keeps people from seeking assistance in the first place. People in crisis are NOT children. They are experts on their own situation and they deserve all the help and support that is available to lessen the stress brought on by homelessness while always retaining their dignity AND autonomy.

  3. Tammy says:

    Amen! Well said and great work!

  4. So, given your frustration did you ever discuss with the shelter why the policies they had were in place and how you could work with them? You’ve assigned several disparaging motives to their behavior, but ( from what you wrote) never spoke with them or asked for clarity and guidance on how you could effectively partner.

    I have no idea who you’re referring to, the facility maybe as misguided as your inferring. But, from your blog, I can’t conclude that and you sound to me like someone with an agenda.

    • Jessica Douglas says:

      thanks for your comment Richard. Yes, not only myself, but others from my agency have had several discussions with this provider. Our philosophies are miles apart and we’ve offered to work together but have had no luck. Only thing on my agenda is to house people!

  5. Richard, we did indeed discuss the issues with the provider in question, and I can confirm that we do indeed have an agenda. If you’d like to know more about our agenda, this is as good a place to start as any:

  6. Jessica & Zachary,

    Thanks for clarifying. I’m certain you know the why’s of homelessness are complex and multifaceted. If we are ever going to solve this problem a coordinated effort is required among all providers. Very sorry about the Shelter you’re dealing with. I’m aquainted with many “shelters”, mostly Rescue Missions doing amazing work.

  7. josie watson says:

    Thanks for such an insightful look at how sheltering services can perpetuate social inadequacy and exclusion. I am really curious about intensive case management, what does this consist of?