Emergency Housing: Three Ways to Connect with Local Shelter Systems

This blogpost offers tools to help newcomers who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless find immediate shelter and stay safe.

Safe, sanitary, and affordable housing is a prerequisite for well-being. But securing housing of this standard is difficult—particularly for newcomers to the United States. Many of Refugee Housing Solutions’ resources highlight ways to secure housing and avoid homelessness. If you are a newcomer, or are working with a newcomer, who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, here are tools to help find immediate shelter and keep you safe.  

Connect with Your Local Shelter System

You can get in touch with the shelter system in your community in several ways. It’s important to begin this process as soon as possible to avoid the prospect of going a night without a place to stay. Here are three places to start:

1. Call a Hotline 

  • Call 211, which is United Way’s around-the-clock resource that helps people in the United States find the local resources and services they need. Dial 211 to contact expert help, or visit their website to find local 211 support.

2. Use Tools for Finding Shelter

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Find Shelter Tool helps people facing homelessness find housing, shelter, health care, and clothing resources in their local communities. 
  • This HUD Tool provides state-by-state information on housing, shelter, health care, food, and rental assistance options for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. 

3. Connect with a Continuum of Care 

  • Continuums of Care (CoCs) are local or regional planning bodies that coordinate housing services and funding for homeless families and individuals. CoCs are seen as the “front door” to homelessness services. They assist folks in need from intake to rehousing in order to avoid perpetual homelessness. Contact your local CoC here 
  • Visit United Way’s website for more resources on emergency housing in the United States.   

What to Expect After You Connect with Your Local Shelter System

After you connect with any of the above resources and the provider staff have assessed your needs and vulnerabilities, you may be referred to a shelter bed immediately, or you may be placed on a waitlist. If you are not immediately referred to a shelter, be sure to ask what steps you should take next in your local community. Depending on your locality, you may also be referred to housing resources such as rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, or other resources.

What to Do If Your Community Doesn’t Have an Access Point to Shelter Services

Most communities that resettle newcomers have homelessness support available, but in the case that your community does not, you will have to identify alternative providers for shelter, health care, and food:


If your community doesn’t have typical shelter for homeless support, connect with the following resources:

  • County Department of Human or Social Services
  •  Nearby houses of worship
  •  Social service nonprofit organizations
  •  Libraries
  •  Local food pantries
  •  Local immigrant communities

Health Care

Food Security

Additional Resources

  • The HUD Office of Housing Counseling website helps you search for and locate a housing counseling agency—a local organization that provides free or low-cost housing counseling services, such as homelessness prevention and transition into affordable housing.
  • The National Coalition for the Homeless has many resources to help people avoid becoming homeless or seek help from emergency assistance programs if they are currently experiencing homelessness.
  • USAHello provides information and education for refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, and welcoming communities. Their online resources include educational materials on navigating the U.S. health care system and seeking care for health and mental health.
  • If newcomers are facing eviction or are at risk of homelessness due to legal issues, contact your local Legal Aid Society. Attorneys may be able to help newcomers stay in their current housing if eviction can be prevented.