There are many reasons why homeless people avoid using the local shelter. Some of the more commonly known reasons are a lack of sanitation, infestation with bugs or rodents, extremely dangerous people already using the shelter, problems with theft, enforced sobriety rules and being banned from the shelter for previous actions while staying there.
Here are a few more items to add to that list:
Social stigma: If a person has a vehicle or (even better) a camper they can use, then parking in some random parking lot for the night is more socially acceptable than sleeping at a shelter. Unfortunately, some shelter volunteers are there for the express purpose of identifying ‘those people’ and pointing them out to anyone and everyone who will listen. I’ve actually watched well respected and well connected ‘pillers-of-society’ do this…aggressively…on many (MANY!) occasions over the years.
Employment: If you’re serious about acquiring or maintaining employment, then staying at the shelter can be a really bad idea. People talk and word gets around. If your employer finds out you are staying at the shelter, he or she may decide to eliminate you due to the perceived risks associated with hiring a ‘homeless person.’ This is regardless of how long you’ve worked for that employer or how good your work has been and continues to be.
Abuse: Anyone running from an abusive relationship will be trying to find a safe place where they cannot be found. Shelters are not safe places for people running from a stalker, domestic violence, or similar threat of violence. It’s too easy to be found AND for the abuser to enter the premises of a shelter. If a bed in a battered women’s shelter is not available…or if the individual is male (men face abuse too)…then the standard adult shelter may be exceptionally unsafe.
Children: Even shelters that make accommodations for families with children can be exceptionally dangerous for kids and teens. Depending on the situation, the number of people using the facility (read: is it crowded?) and the way the shelter is managed, a parent may assess the situation and decide that it is simply too dangerous for the kids.
Discrimination: Shelters are often run by private non-profits and religious organizations. Therefore, some of these shelters feel they have the right to require anyone who uses their services to participate in their particular brand of religion. They also believe they have the right to deny assistance to anyone they consider to be ‘immoral’ – this includes people who are LGBT, devoted practitioners of other religions, members of races or ethnicities the group dislikes, and pretty much anything else. Sometimes a court case will be brought against a shelter for doing this sort of thing, but finding (paying) a lawyer is extremely difficult for all poverty survivors, even more so for homeless people.
Forced Adoption or Abortion: There are ‘shelters’ that ‘help’ pregnant women by providing care during the pregnancy with the aggressively enforced assumption that those women will give their children up for adoption (arranged by the shelter, through their network of lawyers and other adoption professionals, all of whom get a cut of the final sale…sorry…adoption). Sometimes these same shelters will do everything in their power to force women to abort babies that are difficult to adopt out (e.g.: they are not a popular racial mix). Bottom line? Word gets around and pregnant women who have found themselves homeless will go to extreme lengths to avoid these places and with good reason – even when other shelters refuse to provide services to pregnant women.
-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question Why are homeless people still on the streets when there are shelters for them to go to?