Much discussion in communities has been focused on shelters, street outreach, and the match to support and housing options as communities have focused on implementing coordinated entry. Where drop-ins, day shelters, and other types of programming during daytime hours fits in is worthy of exploration.
One of the challenges to figuring out the role for the likes of drop-ins and feeding programs is that they often serve both homeless and precariously housed households. This is a challenge because with the former group we should be able to figure out intentional engagement and assessment strategies, whereas with the latter group the focus is going to be on maintaining housing stability through various strategies. One way (though rarely feasible or preferred by service providers) is to separate population groups: some drop-ins and feeding programs only serve people experiencing homelessness, while others only serve people that are precariously housed. Another way is to try and deliberately determine through staff/volunteer engagement within the environment which guests are experiencing homelessness and which ones are not. In this situation, there should then be follow-up with people experiencing homelessness to assess and determine how best to support and house them.
Day shelters have different challenges. For example, while homelessness is almost always a given in these environments, patrons of day shelters have often engaged with other homeless service facilities like a nighttime shelter or street outreach service. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges is avoiding duplication of engagement and assessment.
Drop-ins, day shelters and other daytime programs present opportunities as well when it comes to coordinated entry. Let us explore those:
1. They are terrific locations to find and engage with people that have already been assessed as a follow-through to housing.
Given the mobility of persons experiencing homelessness on a day to day basis from one service to another, the more communities integrate the sharing of knowledge across service providers (with participant consent) the better. It makes it easier to locate people when there is space available in a housing program.
2. They are another engagement and assessment site for people not previously assessed.
There is always a risk that people will “fall through the cracks” as they move from one location to another in a community while experiencing homelessness. In other words, they are using various services, but at no particular service have they been engaged and assessed for housing. When this has not occurred through a night shelter or outreach or other type of program, any daytime service can provide another vehicle for making sure people are assessed.
3. Maintaining momentum in the housing process can be active rather than passive.
While sometimes day shelters, drop-ins and other daytime services like feeding programs can be passive locations with minimal staff/volunteer engagement, I would argue that they provide an incredible opportunity to maintain momentum in the housing process in a very active manner. This can range from support in getting identification, information on securing government benefits, assistance in getting diagnosis or accessing other health supports, and the like (all of which are dependent on resources being available) to purposeful engagement by staff to reassure a program participant of their choice to move towards achieving housing.
4. Social contact and support.
Day shelters and drop-ins can be the living rooms of people experiencing homelessness. They can be a place of positive fellowship and connectivity to others. When framed towards social contact and support in the process of being housed (and not just contact and support in homelessness), then there is excellent alignment towards the intention of ending homelessness in a community.
5. Continued support in meeting basic needs.
Until such time as each person has housing and can meet their needs with greater independence, there will be a need to meet basic needs in community. Daytime programs are often critical to meeting these needs. But this is not the only purpose they should serve. They are programs that support people achieve housing while meeting basic needs programs; not just basic need programs.