How to Start a Nonprofit Homeless Shelter
Anyone can be homeless at any time. While most people can’t fathom the idea of not having a roof over their head or a daily shower, millions of people suffer everyday with homelessness. Unfortunately, the number of homeless people far outweighs the number of shelters. You can help people by starting your own nonprofit homeless shelter, but be prepared for a lot of hard work.
Organizing Your Shelter
Prepare a mission statement.Clearly outline your intentions, goals, and services. Identify the number of individuals you can shelter and whether you will offer a food pantry, pet assistance, or career counseling. Your mission statement can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages.
Find a location for your shelter.Ideally, someone will donate a building to you. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay rent, which can make it hard to run a homeless shelter.Drive around the neighborhood and check for abandoned buildings. You can find the owner by visiting the county assessor’s office and checking tax records.
- Also make requests for a donation through media, such as radio/TV shows, newspapers, and social media.
- You can only have a shelter in an area zoned for it, so check zoning laws as well.
Walk through the buildings.Your building should have bathrooms and working showers for the residents. Some homeless shelters have individual showers, but many have communal showers.When you visit a building, check the plumbing and confirm there is enough space to install showers.
- Decide whether you want to provide meals to your residents as well. If you do, there needs to be a working kitchen where you can prepare food. You’ll also need space for residents to eat, which should be separate from the sleeping area.
Partner with another nonprofit.Talk to nonprofits in your area and discuss your interest in starting a homeless shelter. They might give you tips about how to get off the ground. They might also have funds you can use to defray start-up costs.
- Consult with religious institutions, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques. Their values should align with yours, so they might be particularly eager to help you start a homeless shelter.
Find financing.If you can’t get another nonprofit to fund you, you’ll need to find funds on your own. This can be a challenge. You can apply for government grants, which you can find online. In the U.S., check grants.gov and usa.gov.Consider other sources of funding:
- Friends and family. Show them your proposal in which you explain why you are starting the homeless shelter and how you will use the money.
- Donors. People who don’t know you might donate to the homeless shelter. They’ll need some way to find you, so you might want to create a website. Set up the website so that you can accept Paypal.
Get legal help.You need to jump through many hoops to start your homeless shelter. You’ll need expert legal advice, which only a qualified attorney can provide. Although money might be tight, you should still look for a lawyer.
- Some lawyers are happy to provide services pro bono to nonprofits. Talk to a local attorney and ask if they know someone willing to work pro bono.
Completing Legal Requirements
Incorporate.You’ll need to file paperwork with your jurisdiction to become a nonprofit corporation. In the U.S., you should file articles of incorporation.Your state’s Secretary of State website should have “fill in the blank” forms you can use. Find the correct website at .
- Your articles will require basic information about your corporation, e.g., your name, principal place of business, and a registered agent who can accept legal papers.
- Submit your articles to the address provided along with your fee. Each jurisdiction sets its own fees, but plan on spending a couple hundred dollars.
Draft bylaws.Your bylaws are your nonprofit’s operating manual. You probably don’t need to file them with your jurisdiction, but you should keep them at your principal place of business. Nonprofit bylaws should contain the following:
- Basic information, such as your corporate name and the location of your principal office.
- A description of your business purpose.
- An explanation of how you are dedicating your nonprofit’s assets. For example, if you dissolve, you will probably give your assets to another nonprofit.
- The number of directors, as well as their qualifications and duties.
- The number of officers, including information about how they will be elected, their duties, and compensation.
- A well-developed conflict of interest policy, which is meant to protect your nonprofit from being taken advantage of by directors, officers, and other insiders.
Get a business license.Contact your city or county government to get the applicable business license. Generally, you’ll need to provide your name, contact information, tax ID number, and number of employees. You usually must pay a fee.
Obtain a tax ID.Even though you’re a nonprofit, you’ll still need a tax ID. In the U.S., you should get your Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) from the IRS. You can get it online: .
Apply for federal tax-exempt status.U.S. nonprofits should download the application from the IRS website: Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3). If you’re a smaller nonprofit, check whether you can file Form 1023-EZ.
- You’ll need to provide financial information. If you’re a new nonprofit, you must provide financial data for every year you’ve been in existence and estimates for future years. You may need an accountant to help you.
- You should file for tax-exempt status within 27 months of filing your articles of incorporation. If you do, your tax-exempt status is retroactive to the date you filed your articles.
- Once you are approved, you’ll receive a determination letter. Hold onto this, since you will probably need to show it to many people.
Apply for state tax-exempt status.In the U.S., you might also need tax-exempt status from your state. Contact your state’s tax agency. Generally, you’ll need to complete an application and submit a copy of your federal determination letter.
Preparing to Open
Obtain insurance.Many things could go wrong in the shelter. For example, a resident might slip and fall or residents might become violent. In any event, you’ll need to get insurance to protect you.
- You can obtain a policy by find an insurance agent in your phone book. Also talk to other homeless shelters about what insurance they carry.
Appoint directors to the board.Your directors will make major financial and policy decisions for your homeless shelter. Your jurisdiction should set the number of directors you must have. However, in the U.S., you should have at least three.
- Find people with skills that will benefit your homeless shelter. For example, a former manager of a homeless shelter might make a great director.
- Prominent business people also make good directors. They know other business owners in the community and can raise your profile.
Convene an board of directors meeting.At your initial meeting, the directors should take care of the following tasks:
- Adopt your bylaws.
- Appoint officers, such as President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary. In a small nonprofit, one person can take on more than one role.
- Note that you have received tax-exempt status.
- Authorize someone to open a bank account for the homeless shelter.
Hire volunteers.One or two people can’t run a homeless shelter on their own. Instead, you’ll need plenty of volunteers who can work at night and in the morning. Advertise for volunteers in your local newspaper and online.
- If you partner with a religious institution, you can ask its members to volunteer. Request an opportunity to speak to the congregation about your homeless shelter.
Train volunteers.Contact a nearby shelter and ask if they can send someone over to give trainings on how to run things. Staff will need to check in residents, handle violent or unstable residents, and keep the shelter clean. You should make sure staff receives all necessary training.
- Your staff also needs to be aware of state laws regulating homeless shelters. For example, in some states, the homeless are given ID numbers. Your staff will need to enter this information into a computer system.
Hire employees.You might not be able to get by with only volunteers. Instead, you might need to hire full- or part-time staff, such as janitors, cooks, security guards, etc. Comply with your jurisdiction’s laws regarding hiring employees.
- In the U.S., you’ll need to report all new hires to your state’s New Hire Reporting office within 20 days. This is required for all full- or part-time employees but not independent contractors. You should register for an account with your state office.
- You may also need to buy workers’ compensation insurance. Talk to your insurance agent.
Ask for food donations.Go to grocery stores and tell them about your homeless shelter. Ask if they can donate any food to your kitchen.Make sure to take copies of your legal documents with you to show that you are a legitimate nonprofit. Business owners will want to see your nonprofit determination letter as well as your business license and articles of incorporation.
Request donations for other items.Your homeless shelter will need cots, pillows, blankets, toys, and other items.Ask businesses in the community if they are willing to donate. You should visit in person, which will give you a chance to talk about your shelter.
QuestionWhat is the cost of licenses?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on where you live. Ask your local municipality.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I talk to a town about putting in a homeless shelter?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGo to City Hall. Ask the receptionist who would be able to help and proceed from there.Thanks!
QuestionCan you obtain an abandoned building from the city for a homeless shelter?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou should stop into city hall and ask. Chances are, they won't give you the building. However, you might be able to arrange to rent the building for very little money.Thanks!
QuestionHow do you do a business plan?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou might find it helpful to read: How to Write a Business Plan. In terms of tailoring it to a homeless shelter, ask the municipality for some precedents or look online for examples from existing homeless shelter operations. It might help to call or visit one to talk to someone who has already prepared such a business plan, to find out what they'd recommend form part of this plan.Thanks!
QuestionI want to start a battered women's shelter, I just need help how to get started. What do I need to do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt would help if you wrote your business plan first or at least part of it. Go to a city meeting and other women's groups to start getting the word out and make sure you incorporate your mission statement and what you need in your speech.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I am a kid but still want to create a charity?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust do it! Don't let your age stop you. Get support from your parents, teachers, neighbors, family and friends. Nowadays with social media anything is possible!Thanks!
QuestionWho do you send the mission statement and/or business proposal to?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on where you live, as the details will vary from state to state/municipality to municipality, etc. Contact your local city offices and ask for their assistance in advising on the correct address.Thanks!
QuestionHow long will all of this take once you have done everything?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThat depends on where you live, what your state and local requirements are, and how much financial backing or support you have for the project. Give it at least a good six months or so of organizational work and getting permits, etc. but realistically, it may take longer.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I get into a shelter if I'm not a vet and it's veterans only?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou don't. There are other shelters set up for non veterans, but a vets only shelter is just that.Thanks!
QuestionWhat degree would be beneficial to run a camp and homeless shelter?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA master's degree in social work would be great.Thanks!
Would contacting the homeless liaison in my city directly regarding my interest in opening not just a homeless shelter but a rehabilitation center. I want to help people become self-sufficient.
If my church owns a building, what is needed to turn it into a homeless shelter?
Does South Carolina pay boarder fees to a shelter where people stay until they can get on their feet?
What is the round figure to set up a homeless shelter for a minimum of 20-25 men?
Can you run a homeless shelter or women's shelter without any degrees?
Things You'll Need
Shelter Location and Building
Volunteers or Employees
Sources and Citations
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