Michigan’s homeless population numbers 86,000, according to the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness. The working poor constitute one-third of Michigan’s homeless. Although Michigan’s plan to end homelessness focuses on prevention of homelessness and quickly moving the homeless into permanent housing, there remains a need for homeless shelters to provide temporary housing for individuals and families. Starting a homeless shelter begins with creating an organization to develop and operate the shelter.

Create a nonprofit organization by incorporating your organization with the Michigan Bureau of Commercial Services, Corporations Division. Ask for volunteers to help with your plans to start a homeless shelter and to serve on your nonprofit organization board. After incorporation as a nonprofit, apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax-exempt status. Your homeless shelter qualifies for more grant programs as a tax-exempt organization.

Write a business plan. Your plan should detail your fundraising plans and how to achieve each task required to start a homeless shelter. Include details about the population your shelter will target, the size of the shelter, staffing needs and other services your shelter will offer. Include a budget and a timeline for development and opening the shelter.

Join the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. This organization puts you in touch with other shelter operators and with professionals working in all areas of homelessness. The coalition’s meetings, resources and training can help you develop your shelter identify resources you need. The coalition also coordinates the Michigan Homeless Information System, or MHIS, which collects information about clients and provides information about services.

Contact the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA, and meet with someone to learn about technical assistance, training and MSHDA grants available for homeless shelters. The agency can also help with applying to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, for the free use of surplus property for homeless shelters.

Apply for funding and raise funds to provide start-up money and ongoing support for your homeless shelter. Identify grants from local, state and federal government agencies, national and community foundations, corporations and local businesses. Hold fundraisers and special events to raise money.

Locate property, a house or building, and check zoning requirements to ensure you can operate a homeless shelter in the property. Arrange for utilities in the shelter location. Contact utility companies -- telephone, electricity, gas, water, cable and Internet -- and ask about discounts or deposit waivers for homeless shelters.

Furnish the homeless shelter. Ask for donations of furniture, appliances, household goods and other items. Visit state and federal surplus property agencies for free or low-cost items. Purchase fire detectors and extinguishers, locks, first aid supplies and other items needed for health, safety and security.

Obtain the required licensing, inspections and insurance. Michigan does not require homeless shelters to have a state license. However, if you prepare food at the shelter, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development requires a food establishment license. Contact your local health department and the county’s clerk’s office for information about local licensing requirements. Contact the local fire department for a safety inspection.


Create an operations manual and a resident handbook for the homeless shelter. Notify local organizations about the opening of your homeless shelter. Contact law enforcement, hospitals, the local fire department, the Department of Human Services and homeless organizations. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Department of Human Services provide voucher programs to pay homeless shelters for housing homeless persons.


Talk to current homeless shelter operators to make sure you have all the legal requirements in place.