Do Homeless Shelters Charge Money?

A homeless shelter with bunk beds.

When people think of staying in homeless shelters, they normally assume it’s free because most people associate these types of places with people who are struggling, poor, or barely getting by financially. However, you may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of shelters do actually charge their residents. I know this from being homeless myself in the United States, but this is also the case all over the world in other parts of the world including Australia, Bangkok, Paris, and London, UK. Of course, this isn’t the case in every situation and it’s normally free to stay in shelters for the initial week or two weeks you’re there.

However, normally there is going to be some type of fee that’s charged after a person has stayed in a shelter for a certain duration of time. So if you’re about to be out on the streets or already are homeless and are considering staying in these types of refuges, here’s just a few things you should know about them so you know what to expect beforehand.


When is it Free to Stay in Shelters?
In my experience in California, all shelters I encountered allowed people to stay for free for at least the first week and some often let people stay for two weeks or up to a month for free. But I have heard of shelters in other states and more rural areas that are completely free throughout the year and you can stay without charge for as long as you’d like. So it really just depends on where you live or which establishment you’re trying to stay at. Majority of the shelters I’ve been to asked their residents for some form of ID before being admitted, but they are often flexible on what type of ID’s they accept, as long as it can be authenticated and isn’t a fake ID. They normally use these ID’s to keep track of who has used up their free days yet and who hasn’t, that way they know when to start charging people.


Why Do Shelters Charge Homeless People?
These types of organizations often give different reasons as to why they charge their guests, but the most common reason given is that they do this to teach homeless people how to be self-sufficient in order to get back on their feet eventually and pay rent to someone else when possible. Some receive private-funding, while others use the money paid by their residents to keep their shelters in operation and also may use the money to pay for some of the free meals they offer. Most of the time, shelters receive their food from donations, such as donations from large grocery stores or other companies, but this isn’t always the case and they may need money to pay for the food in some cases. So there’s really a variety of reasons they may give as to why they are charging people to sleep in their beds and use their showers each night.


When Do You Have to Pay?
Normally, with most shelters, you’ll have to start paying the shelter to stay there after 7 to 14 days, but some shelters remain completely free throughout the year, as I mentioned previously. Some places will only charge people who can afford to pay and may ask to see bank statements or other financial statements from the state to determine a person’s eligibility to receive free rent to sleep in their cots or beds.

Sometimes states or the government will do a financial audit on a person when they apply for benefits such as EBT (food stamps), social security disability, or other social services. The person will receive a form or letter from the state regarding this audit and it’s this piece of paper that some shelters will want to see in order to determine whether they are able to pay to stay for a night or week at a time or not. Some places will not try to charge their residents until after a month has passed, so it can often vary depending on the person, the place, and the state.


How Much Do You Have to Pay?
The charge will vary depending on where you’re staying, assuming there is a charge, but the most common range that I’ve seen at most shelters is between $5 and $10 per night. The Salvation Army often charges $5 per night after the first few weeks or first month, but this really depends on the location as there are still some that apparently do not charge anything in some areas and others that charge different rates.

Usually, it really depends on what the cost of living and how the local economy is in the area where the shelter is located. If it’s in San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles, for example, the fee may be as high as $10 simply because the local economy in these areas is stronger than in rural Arkansas or Tennessee. Jobs in these big cities pay better, although most homeless people do not have jobs, and the cost to rent a room in someone’s apartment or house is often much more than the $300 per month that you might end up paying in a homeless shelter.

Furthermore, the amount of homeless people in the area can also be a major factor in how much the local shelters will charge you, simply because of the laws of supply and demand. If more people are out on the streets and trying to stay in local shelters, that means they can charge a bit more for each cot per night because there’s more demand for each cot per night. This may be depressing for some people to hear, especially those who feel they can’t afford a cot, but as any homeless person already knows, the world is not always fair and kind to those who are struggling.


Payment Assistance Programs
In some areas or states, there may be programs available to help homeless people pay for their stays in shelters. Local charity groups, churches, or even the county or state may offer financial assistance. Most states offer some form of general relief or housing assistance cash per month which can normally be used to pay for beds in homeless shelters as well, but there may also be organizations in the area or programs through the local county that directly work with shelters and either pay for the cost of staying at them directly or reimburse those who have already paid and need cash assistance.

This is why you should speak to those who run these types of shelters, such as the management and staff working at them as they will normally be familiar with what types of programs most often help people. You should also research the resources available to you by going online, visiting the website for your local service services department, or visit them in-person.