How to Start a Homeless Shelter

With 3.5 million homeless in America—and the number expected to rise to about 5 million by the end of 2011—there simply aren’t enough homeless shelters to house and help the high demand being met.

In fact, the demand for services from homeless shelters has grown so high, and resources so low, that over half of the homeless shelters across America are forced to turn people away.

Furthermore, some communities may be blind to the homeless and needy in their area and simply lack a homeless shelter. If this is the case in your community, consider gathering friends, family, neighbors and local nonprofit organizations in an effort to establish a much-needed homeless shelter in your neighborhood.

Here are a few ways to get started with your homeless shelter:

1. Gather volunteers - Right away, you should know that this endeavor is too much for one person. Get consistent and reliable volunteers in your community to help you start up your homeless shelter.
2. Location, location, location - Of course, you need a place to house the homeless. Make requests through public announcements, the local paper or radio/TV stations for a building to be donated to house the homeless shelter. Otherwise, you’ll have to rent or buy a building.
3. Partner up - Are their local nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, or charity groups that you can partner up with? They can help you start your homeless shelter. They can also be a “fiscal sponsor,” where the other nonprofit covers all of the initial start-up costs of your homeless shelter.
4. Fill out the paperwork - Apply for incorporation with your Secretary of State office, and apply for a business license. Yes, even homeless shelters need a business license. Check your local courthouse to determine what paperwork is needed to apply. Don’t forget to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, too.

Tip: If you find enough volunteers, choose at least three and hand over the responsibility of applying for a license, incorporation and tax exemptions and the rest of that paperwork to them. Remember, this is a tough job: delegate!
5. Enlist help from local groups - Charity organizations, religious institutions—mosques, churches, temples—businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, etc., have all the resources you need at your disposal. Ask them to support the homeless shelter by donating food, beds, blankets, pillows, clothes, books, toys, monetary donations, sponsorship, etc.
Starting a nonprofit homeless shelter is definitely not considered a weekend hobby. It’s challenging. But with the help and support of the community—neighbors, friends and family, organizations, community leaders, etc.— those who are committed to eradicating hunger and the suffering of the homeless in their neighborhood will be able to reach out and help the people who are growing desperate.