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How Are Homeless Shelters Run?

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Social workers at homeless shelters helping prep food and clothes in the back.

Homeless shelters are oftentimes the only safe haven for those without adequate housing or residency. Shelters are places where those without a home can find resources to combat their current situation and trauma, as well as receive the care and support they require at the given moment. Even more importantly, they provide a safe place to sleep and receive a meal. Volunteering at a shelter or donating goods/funds can help in fighting against homelessness, and will provide somebody with the help that they need.

What Is Homelessness?

Homelessness can be defined as the absence of adequate, permanent, or sustainable access to shelter. This includes couch surfing or living in a car. Homelessness is primarily a systemic issue but is also often a result of family breakdown. Poor mental and physical health, subjection to previous violence and abuse, and a shortage of affordable housing all contribute to homelessness.

Sheltered Homelessness

Sheltered homelessness refers to the homeless population that stays in shelters or uses housing programs. Shelters in Canada include emergency shelters, traditional housing shelters, and violence against women shelters. 

Unsheltered homelessness encapsulates the homeless population that spends their nights in public or private areas not intended for human habitation. 

Causes of Homelessness

  • Poverty
  • Inadequate Housing
  • Divorce and family disputes
  • Physical and violent abuse
  • Mental and physical trauma
  • Sexual trauma and abuse
  • Addiction to drugs and alcohol
  • Lack of access to education
  • Lack of access to social programs
  • Unemployment
Kitchen staff serving food at homeless shelter.

Homelessness in Canada

How do Homeless Shelters Run?

Homeless shelters usually start due to the efforts of individuals and sponsors (like hospitals, companies, professionals, etc.), and the need to support the local homeless community. Homeless shelters address the complications that homeless people face by creating specific programs that can help them overcome these issues.

Some specialized programs that homeless shelters can provide are:

  • ID clinics
  • Cooking clinics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Employment guidance
  • Education guidance

Along with these programs, homeless shelters can provide meals and safe places to sleep for those without access to basic necessities.

Usually, individuals will be admitted to an emergency shelter during a specific time period at night and will be given a meal and provided a shower. They are allowed to stay for the night in a clean bed and will have access to different amenities. The next day, if they want to stay another night, they will need to come back at the previously established time period and get readmitted.

Canada’s Affordable Housing Program

Housing programs are another avenue of social support aimed at combating homelessness. Housing in Canada is considered to be affordable if it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income

In 2017, the National Housing Strategy was announced with the goal of ensuring that Canadians could access housing that was affordable and could meet their needs. The NHS is a detailed 10-year, $40 billion plan that promises to deliver results and benefit all Canadians. This plan includes building more affordable, accessible, inclusive, and sustainable homes. The primary focus will be on meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, such as:

To learn more about Canada’s Affordable Housing Program, visit the CMHC website.

What to Donate to Homeless Shelters

Volunteering Your Time

Volunteering can go a long way for a person who is experiencing homelessness. Helping out at your local shelter can provide the workers there with more on-hand help, and can provide visitors with a kind face to look forward to seeing.


During the winter months, it is crucial to stay warm and comfortable. People will not always have access to shelters, so making sure that they have adequate clothing for the weather can help save lives. Clothing such as winter coats, toques, mittens, boots, and men’s jeans are some goods that are in high demand during the colder months. 

There is a need and demand for clothes in all seasons. At Regeneration Outreach Community we care about all who are experiencing homelessness and to be able to provide them with needs that are critical to their everyday lives. Having a good pair of shoes critical for individuals experiencing homelessness. People are constantly walking and on their feet and a person experiencing homelessness may not have several pairs to switch between. 


Lots of people use shelters to look after their hygienic needs. Toiletries and towels can be essential products to shelters for use by people without access to their own showers and baths.

Transit Passes

Transit passes can help people in poverty get to where they need to go. Some people may be able to get a job, but do not have access to the transportation needed to get there. Transit passes can help alleviate these kinds of issues.

Written by Ted Brown

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