[Hpn] Shelter survey report: SHUT OUT... part 2

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
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.

Liked Best

"...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.

Nutritional Food
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 
being met. 

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 
these individuals. 

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%

Like Least

"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

Shelter Staff
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

Noisy Facilities
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 
written up."
					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 
and regulations:
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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