How to Start an Emergency Shelter

Every community needs an emergency shelter. Shelters provide a safe haven for individuals and animals in need. An emergency shelter can provide food, housing, medical attention, job and housing assistance for homeless families and animals. An emergency animal shelter can take in abandoned and stray pets and give them a temporary home away from extreme weather temperatures and provide food. An emergency shelter for battered woman can be a refuge for women and children. Starting an emergency shelter can be a rewarding opportunity, but it takes a lot of preparation to run one smoothly.

Find out the shelter needs of your community. Determine what types of emergency shelters are available in your location and discover where an additional shelter is needed. Consider your skills and area of expertise when determining what kind of emergency shelter to open. For instance, your abilities and strengths may be in human resources or you may be an animal lover.

Draft a business plan for your emergency shelter. Write what services you want to provide through the shelter. Include if the shelter offers extended stays or temporary shelter with food, counseling, medical care, job or housing placement. Determine your budget for the shelter. Keep in mind expenses for repairs, remodeling, staff salaries and monthly operating costs.

Contact other charitable nonprofit organizations in your community. Meet the operators and owners of other shelters to learn how they manage their organization. Bring questions and ask for advice. Call the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Humane Society and SPCA for information on financial assistance and grants to be used toward opening your emergency shelter.

Find a location for your emergency shelter. It should be convenient for the public to access and have plenty of space for common areas, sleeping, kitchen facilities and medical treatment, if applicable. Contact your state's zoning commission to make sure it's legal to open an emergency shelter in your desired location.

Register your emergency shelter with your state. Apply for the necessary business permits and licenses from your state's small business administration, if required. File articles of incorporation with your secretary of state's office. You must do this even if you choose to start your shelter as a nonprofit organization. As a nonprofit, most states require you to elect three board members.

Contact your local shelter authority. This may be your county clerk's office or the department of animal care and control, for example. Inform them of your emergency shelter and ask if they can list your services on their website and in informational bulletins in the community.


  • Plan ahead when starting your shelter. You don't want to run out of supplies or space when an emergency occurs.


  • Work with the local police to make sure people inside your shelter are kept safe and that you do not house fugitives. Screen guests and employees. Consider hiring a security guard to help keep the peace during emergencies.