Legal & Ethical Issues Facing Homeless Shelters

Written by sam kellenberg
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Legal & Ethical Issues Facing Homeless Shelters
Legal issues facing homeless shelter often vary depending on state and local laws. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Homeless shelters, like many non-profit organisations, face a number of legal and ethical issues which can divert valuable resources away from treating homelessness. In some cases, these issues can result in more damage to homeless populations. Despite these problems, homeless shelters still provide a necessary resource to needy individuals, and many homeless shelters actively support a number of other programs to assist homeless individuals.

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Family Homelessness

As of 2010, it is becoming increasingly common in the United States for families to experience homelessness together. One significant legal and ethical issue facing homeless shelters is whether child services should be notified of homeless families with children. In many cases, child services programs separate children from their families, to be placed with relatives or in foster or institutional homes. An ongoing debate on this issue is whether it is better for children to remain with homeless parents or be subject to these unfamiliar environments.

Youth Homelessness

Youth homelessness is described by the National Alliance to End Homelessness as "disturbingly common." Researchers estimate that anywhere between 5 and 7.7 per cent of youth experience homelessness each year. In many cases, homeless shelters must make the call on whether to report such homeless youth to child service organisations -- which, though they may be legally obligated to do, may not be in the best interests of the individual -- and even more disturbingly, reports have been made of some youth homeless shelters 'farming' out their occupants for labour or sex trafficking.

Veteran Homelessness

Many ethical issues surround the veteran homeless population, with many veterans experiencing chronic homelessness and being overrepresented in the homeless population in general. In many cases, researchers indicate that a lack of government programs to help veterans readjust to civilian life after service could contribute to veteran homelessness. Regrettably, cases are found every year in which homeless shelters serving veterans have been abusing federal and state assistance to the homeless veteran population in various forms, even so much as to pocket monetary benefits intended for homeless individuals.

Other Legal Issues

In some cases, homeless shelters don't have enough funds to hire the legally required number of supervisors, attorneys, or social workers or to upgrade their facilities. Some shelter policies also require applicants to fill out various waivers releasing potentially sensitive personal legal, accounting and health information before receiving services.

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