Low-Barrier Shelters: A Good Thing

By United Way of King County, on June 23, 2016 | In Fighting Homelessness

We are so excited about Mayor Murray’s executive order directing the creation of a low-barrier, one-stop service program for individuals without shelter to receive the customized support they need to move into permanent homes.

In an ideal world, shelters would be accessible to all people seeking an alternative to sleeping on the street. Unfortunately, there are many basic and complex reasons why people seeking shelter remain on the streets. Creating a 24-hour service center is a great step in the right direction of our goal to reduce the number of unsheltered people by 50% by 2020.

Shelters with limited entry requirements are referred to as “low-barrier.”

Shelters in the United States and Canada are revising policies to be more accessible to people living on the street, taking a client-centered approach that reduces barriers to using shelter. Shelters with limited entry requirements are referred to as “low-barrier.” While this term is widely used, there is no uniform definition, shelter entry policies vary widely, and many unhoused people still face obstacles accessing shelters.

According to the One Night Count on January 29th, 2016 approximately 4,505 people are without shelter in King County.  This spring, Seattle University’s Law School published a research article detailing some of the reasons why emergency shelters can be inaccessible to the most vulnerable populations.

Do you have a pet? Do you have a husband or a wife? Children? Belongings that need to be stored? A job or other commitment that prevents you from getting to the shelter early enough to wait in long lines?  All of these reasons would preclude you from staying in many shelters in King County.  Seattle University’s research revealed that the lack of shelter options for couples in King County resulted in one provider opening a day shelter for couples to sleep on chairs. Often, couples have no option but to camp outside if they want to be together.

The new 24/7 shelter targeting unsheltered people in Seattle is modeled on The Navigation Center, in San Francisco. Mayor Ed Murray, Council member Tim Burgess, and All Home director Mark Putnam visited this shelter in the spring.  At the Navigation Center clients are allowed to have pets, live with a partner, store their property, and come and go freely.  In addition, the center offers round-the-clock case management, mental and behavioral health services, and connections to benefit programs and housing, all in one location.

United Way King County is looking forward to increasing shelter access as well as emphasizing exits to housing. We believe that 24 hour shelters are an important tool in the larger effort to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time.


All comments are approved before they are posted to the site.