[Hpn] Shelter survey report: SHUT OUT... part 2
Coalition on Homelessness, SF
Sun, 24 Sep 2000 16:35:35 -0700
continued from part 1
Experiences with San Francisco's Shelter System
When we asked the people we surveyed who stayed at shelters what they
liked most and least about San Francisco's shelters, we found that
the majority of our respondents liked the most basic aspects of
shelters best, and that the majority's chief complaints went much
deeper than that.
"...That they exist"
24 year old African Latino male
Off the Streets
The most common response (175 respondents) to this question was the
very basic service that shelters provide - an emergency place to get
off the streets. Respondents liked that they had a place where they
were away from the dangers of the street, and police harassment.
Respondents articulated that they appreciated a place to go in an
The second most common response to what people liked about shelters
was that it was a place to sleep. 119 individuals surveyed noted
again, a most basic need being met, that is, the need for sleep.
The third most common response (95 respondents) was that what they
liked most about the shelter was the nutritional food that was
provided. This again pointed to having residents most basic needs
Many respondents (91) stated that the best thing about the shelters
was the access to showers. While there were many comments throughout
the survey about needing more and cleaner shower facilities, clients
felt having access to them was very important.
Significantly, 80 respondents, or 22% stated that there absolutely
nothing that they liked about the shelters. This was quite startling,
and calls for a close look at what shelters are not providing for
The following is a breakdown of number and percents of what
respondents liked best and least about the shelters.
Emergency place to get off the streets 175 47%
Sleep 119 32%
Nutritional Food 95 26%
Showers 91 25%
Nothing 80 22%
Services 70 19%
Time to plan/get oneself together 42 11%
Toiletries 22 6%
They're accessible 21 6%
The following are categories 5% and under
Safe & healthy 19 5%
Staff 18 5%
Sharing with other residents 11 3%
Length of stay 6 2%
Location 5 1%
Setting/Physical space 4 1%
Rules & Structure 4 1%
Privacy 4 1%
Pets 1 0.27%
Culturally specific 1 0.27%
Volunteer program 1 0.27%
Storage 1 0.27%
"I've seen them treat people very disrespectfully. A lot of cursing
and overly loud voices. I think the staff could use a lot more
training in dealing with people in crisis situations"
32 year old white male
The most common response (180 or 53%) to what individuals who used
shelters like least about them was the staff. This was a dominant
theme throughout the surveys. Many respondents felt that staff was
disrespectful and unresponsive. These responses indicate that the
quality of staff at shelters plays a decisive role in whether
residents have a positive experience.
"Drugs in shelter. Staff dealing drugs. Clients dealing drugs.
Disrespectful of elders."
47 year old African American male
Dirty and Insufficient Facilities
The second most common response (153 or 45%) was that facilities were
not only dirty but insufficient. Survey respondents complained about
dirty floors, sheets, toilets, and showers. In addition, many
respondents did not feel there was enough bathrooms and showers in
"No laundry facilities. No toilet paper. No towels. They don't clean.
I guess the same sheet was on there when I got there. It was dirty.
The blankets stink. And the staff are really rude."
42 year old white male
The third most common response (90 people) was about the level of
noise in the shelter. Respondents felt strongly that the level of
noise interrupted their peace of mind, and for some, their sleep.
The following is complete chart on all responses to what people who
stayed in shelters liked least about them:
Shelter staff 180 53%
Dirty & insufficient facilities 153 45%
Noisy facilities 90 27%
Lack of privacy 76 23%
Drug & alcohol use on premises
by staff/clients 48 14%
Other clients 41 12%
Insufficient toiletries 39 12%
Food 38 11%
Lack of equality 32 9%
Overcrowded/Too confining 31 9%
Violence & theft 30 9%
Hours of operation 30 9%
Access 27 8%
Lack of services 26 8%
Isolation 18 5%
Unsafe 16 5%
The following answers were less than 5% of responses:
Lack of beds 15 4%
Too many rules 13 4%
Lack of building maintenance 11 3%
Management (no oversight of staff) 9 3%
Spread of diseases 7 2%
Smoking 6 2%
Pests/lice 6 2%
Volunteer system 4 1%
Not enough ventilation 4 1%
Lack of respect based on identity 4 1%
Lack of client input 3 1%
Rules and Regulations
Individuals who stay in shelters were asked what changes they would
make to the rules and regulations. The responses were quite varied,
however, there were numerous common themes that appear in response to
this question, and many others throughout the survey.
"It is traumatic being homeless anyway without not being able to be
with your partner. There should be some sort of access without being
45 year old white female
Better staff and management in Shelters
"Want to be treated like human beings"
50 year old African American male
(and former Vietnam POW)
The most common (107 or 35%) responses were around the kind of staff
employed at the shelter. People wanted staff and management who are
"respectful, caring and diverse". Again, this points to a common
theme throughout the survey - that respondents see staff as critical
to shelter operations.
People want management to ensure staff follow rules, and also ensure
that staff enforces rules; that staff are educated on medical
emergencies and that shelters should provide staff training, along
with monitoring that rules are upheld. There should be no favoritism,
and consistent use of policy.
Many of those on the streets are formerly incarcerated or have been
institutionalized, and want a less intimidating atmosphere, a safe
place off the streets. They did not want staff who make the shelters
feel like jails.
More Flexible Hours
"More freedom to come and go so you are not restricted to the
shelter. If you can go place at night it helps you feel more part of
the community and get out of homelessness"
31 year old African American female
61 people, or 20%, responded as wanting more flexible hours in the
shelter system. People want more flexible exit and entry times,
especially those who are employed. Also, people who have medical
orders for bed rest from a physician have complained of not being
able to follow those medical orders due to inflexibility by shelter
staff and shelter policies. Respondents would like to change the time
residents get off the floor in the morning, have later curfews, and
check-in times. They would like the shelters to be open 24 hours a
day with flexible in and out times, especially in bad weather.
Simpler Access to Shelters
"When it is cold and raining at 7:30 at night, we have to stand
outside and wait until 9:00 p.m. to get in."
50 year old African American male
Many homeless people (48 respondents or 16%) wanted a simplified
access system to get into the shelter. These included a variety of
comments like not waiting outside for beds - especially in the rain -
more passes for in and out and overnight privileges, improving the
lottery system, a simpler access process, and a no turnaway policy
for shelters by expanding shelter capacity.
Limit drug and alcohol use and sale by staff and clients
44 people, or 14%, wanted to limit drug and alcohol use on-site in
the shelters among both clients and staff. This included a stop to
the rampant drug dealing by staff working on the premises. In
addition, many individuals wanted to limit smoking in the shelters.
Other recommendations that could be learned from this survey are:
improving services, better cleaning of facilities, informing clients
of rules (for staff and clients), having pets in shelter or space
available for pets, allowing people to have their own food, and
having independent shelter monitors and fair rules, as well as
uniform enforcement of those rules.
The following is a breakdown of answers to "changes wanted" to rules
Wanted better staff 107 35%
People did not respond to question 104 25%
Wanted more flexible hours 61 20%
Simpler access to the shelters 48 16%
Wanted to limit drug and alcohol
use and sale by staff and clients 44 14%
Improved Services 38 12%
Cleanliness 27 9%
Inform Clients on Rules 22 7%
less than 5% had these responses:
Allow Pets in Shelters 15 5%
Everything is O.K. 10 3%
Allow people to have own food 8 3%
Have Independent Shelter Monitors 7 2%
Have Fair Rules 7 2%
Clients help run shelter 6 2%
Better Finance System 5 2%
Smaller Shelters (environment) 5 2%
Separate Space for sub-populations 4 1%
No Sex 4 1%
Control Noise Level 3 1%
Change Money Management 2 1%
Longer stay in shelter 2 1%
More Privacy 2 1%
Wake Up calls (this is a service) 1 1%
Respect Confidentiality 1 1%
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