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Risk control considerations for overnight shelters

As an organization that wants to serve the greater good in your community, you may wish to help the homeless by providing shelter—either by opening a permanent facility or by offering shelter at certain times of the year or intermittently. Some organizations may use houses of worship and community sites on a rotational basis.

Any time you allow others to stay at your facility overnight, you open yourself up to a great deal of risk. Before you move forward with plans to operate a homeless shelter, keep these concerns in mind:

Insurance and legal requirements

It is important that you check with your insurance company before allowing others to stay overnight at your facility. While Church Mutual offers coverage for such situations, many companies do not. In the event of an unfortunate incident, your organization wants to be assured it has the right protections in place when allowing people to stay overnight at its facilities.

You also may need a permit or business license from your local authority for operating a shelter at your facility.


Church Mutual has created an assessment that organizations can use when planning to open a homeless shelter. Taking steps to prevent violence is crucial. You should have a written policy that prevents anyone from bringing firearms or other weapons into your facility.

All staff and volunteers also will need thorough training on how to de-escalate conflicts between guests. The people who are staying at your homeless shelter will be coming from many different backgrounds, and it is safest for everyone if they are able to work out their differences before turning to violence.

Sexual abuse

Creating a written policy is the most important first step in addressing potential sexual abuse. If it does occur in your facility, the policy will give you a “roadmap” you can follow.

You will also want to provide separate sleeping areas for men and women who are not part of the same family unit, and make sure children are never alone with adults who are not their guardians.

Disease prevention

You will need to screen every guest before they enter your facility. Guests who are ill will need to be quarantined in a separate area. You also should clean the facility every day, as guests will be coming and going, and you don’t want disease to spread from one guest to another.

Fall prevention

The best way to prevent slips, trips and falls is to keep your facility clear of clutter. Make sure guests have enough light to find their way to the bathroom at night and establish a written policy for cleaning up spills as soon as they happen.

For more valuable risk control information and resources assembled for organizations like yours, visit our Safety Resources for Nonprofit + Human Services Organizations page.