Shelter Standards—A personal view

Reprinted from the Street Sheet newspaper

Left homeless after Hurricane Katrina, I was evacuated to Texas, where I was lucky enough to be placed in one of the many FEMA emergency shelters, where, despite all of the failures of the Federal agency in providing enough shelter, I was at least able to obtain soap and hot water, a clean towel, a toothbrush, band-aids, care, and compassion.  Feminine hygiene products and diapers were also available to those who needed them.  If the Federal government, which by all accounts failed to provide an adequate response to the displacement of residents of the Gulf impacted by the storm, took about two weeks to establish facilities where basic health standards were met, then why has it taken more than 20 years for the City of San Francisco to establish a Standard of Care in shelters for the homeless?

In all 50 states, there is a Standard of Care for animal shelters but not for humans.  After nearly two years in the making, San Francisco has finally adopted a minimum standard of care for human shelters.

A personal victory has been achieved for those who are homeless: a chance to go into a shelter for the night, and actually be treated with dignity.  Basic necessities everyone takes for granted such as the ability to take a hot shower with soap, and a clean towel, or even doing their laundry, will now be available to those with no other place to go.  And now, people with disabilities won’t have to worry about “breaking shelter rules by utilizing the electrical outlets” – someone can finally charge their wheelchair without any repercussions from staff.

With the basic needs being met and cared for, someone who comes into a shelter seeking a way to exit homelessness will now see a dramatic change in the way people are treated.  This is a huge victory for homeless people.


The Standards of Care legislation ensures homeless shelter residents’ rights to:

  • Being treated with dignity and respect;
  • A safe environment free of violence;
  • Toilet paper, hand soap, and dryers;
  • Clean sheets and blankets;
  • Pillow and towels;
  • Fresh drinking water;
  • First aid kits;
  • Reasonable accommodation for meals;
  • A nutritionist in system to plan meals;
  • 8 hours of sleep;
  • Daytime access in 24-hour shelters;
  • Electricity for charging cell phones;
  • Access to free local calls;
  • Materials in Spanish and English;
  • Trained staff who wear badges;
  • A disaster plan;
  • Public notice of meetings;
  • Access to free laundry; and
  • Minimum seven-night stays (excluding CAAP beds).

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008