Nonprofit Insurance Program

Shelters: What Do You Do When You Reach Maximum Capacity?

By Alexa Connelly
January 20, 2017

Shelters fill a valuable need in their communities by providing housing and necessities for the homeless and men, women, and children in need of a safe environment. It is a common misconception that individuals in need can just show and be granted housing on the spot. Shelters rely on government funding, monetary donations, and food and hygiene donations from supporters. Because of this, there is a process to finding a shelter and securing needed housing.


Often times a shelter’s highly demanded services lead them to maximum capacity during the holiday season. During these times, the shelters often have to refuse shelter and aid to individuals in need. It is a difficult decision for directors and volunteers to make and execute, but accepting too many residents leads to safety concerns and funding risks.

Ways to help

As a director or volunteer at your shelter, you have an ongoing desire to help house, provide necessities, and nurture individuals into a stronger version of themselves. Here are some ideas to make it possible to help more individuals in your local community.

  1. Partner with other shelters. Research other shelters in your community and the surrounding area. Develop relationships and establish a partnership with these nonprofits by getting a detailed list of the types of individuals they are able to help. Refer to individuals to these shelters than can benefit from their services. A number of shelters have to maintain a certain census to receive grants and government funding. By working with other shelters you are helping one another keep your doors open long-term.
  2. Offer emergency kits. Put together emergency kits you can provide to individuals in need to help get them through this difficult time. Hats, gloves, scarves, bottles of water, and gift cards to local restaurants helps keep them warm and nourished in the most critical times.
  3. Partner with local hotels. If you don’t have housing available immediately but know a spot is soon opening, look for an alternative housing option. Contact local hotels to see if they will donate or offer your nonprofit a discounted rate for a few nights. Local organizations often seek out opportunities to show support to those in need during the holiday season. Offer them a spotlight in your next donor newsletter or marketing piece giving them credit for their hospitality.
  4. Get help from restaurants. Sponsor a free meal night at a local restaurant. Ask the restaurant owner to donate the food or only charge you for the costs. If they are unable to donate, make calls to local businesses to sponsor the event. This type of publicity is highly valued during the holiday season and you will be able to help more individuals in need.
  5. Apply for grants. If your lack of space starts to be the norm, it may be time to look into opening a second location or expanding your existing building. Track the number of individuals you are unable to help, create a business plan, and start applying for grants to fund the expansion. This is not an immediate fix, but it will help more individuals re-establish their lives in the future.

It is easy to give up hope when you have to refuse to help individuals that need and deserve it. Start making connections with your local community to find ways to increase the number of individuals you help this holiday season.

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