Nursing Care to the Shelter’s Occupants: A Vital Service for the Homeless Population

Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, there will be an estimated 100 million homeless people globally in 2022, and this number is expected to rise due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and economic instability. Homeless people face numerous challenges and barriers to accessing adequate health care, such as lack of transportation, discrimination, substance misuse, and mental health problems. As a result, they often suffer from poor health outcomes, such as higher rates of infectious diseases, chronic conditions, injuries, and premature mortality.

Nurses play a crucial role in providing care and support to the homeless population, especially in shelters, where many homeless people seek refuge and assistance. Shelters are temporary or transitional facilities that offer a safe and comfortable environment for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. They may also provide other services, such as food, clothing, hygiene, counseling, education, and referrals to other resources. Shelters can be classified into different types, such as emergency shelters, transitional shelters, domestic violence shelters, and youth shelters, depending on the target population and the length of stay.

Nursing care in shelters is a specialized and challenging practice that requires a holistic, compassionate, and culturally sensitive approach. Nurses who work in shelters need to have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to address the diverse and complex needs of the shelter’s occupants, as well as the ability to collaborate and coordinate with other professionals and agencies. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the key aspects and responsibilities of nursing care in shelters, and how it can make a positive difference in the health and well-being of the homeless population.

Assessment and Triage

One of the main responsibilities of nurses in shelters is to conduct health assessments and triage for the shelter’s occupants. This involves collecting health histories, performing physical examinations, identifying health problems, and prioritizing the level of urgency and the type of intervention needed. Nurses also need to be aware of the common health issues and risks that affect the homeless population, such as:

  • Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis C, HIV, and COVID-19
  • Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders
  • Injuries, such as wounds, burns, fractures, and frostbite
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia, scurvy, and rickets
  • Dental problems, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and abscesses
  • Skin problems, such as infections, infestations, and ulcers

Nurses need to use their clinical judgment and evidence-based guidelines to determine the appropriate course of action for each case, such as providing basic care, administering medications, dressing wounds, educating the patient, or referring the patient to a higher level of care. Nurses also need to document their findings and interventions clearly and accurately and communicate them to other members of the health care team.

Health Promotion and Education

Another important responsibility of nurses in shelters is to provide health promotion and education to the shelter’s occupants. This involves providing information and advice on various topics, such as:

  • Prevention and management of common health problems
  • Hygiene and sanitation practices
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Immunization and screening
  • Family planning and reproductive health
  • Harm reduction and substance use
  • Smoking cessation and tobacco control
  • Stress management and coping skills
  • Self-care and empowerment

Nurses need to use effective and culturally appropriate communication strategies to deliver health messages, such as verbal, written, visual, or interactive methods. Nurses also need to tailor their health education to the specific needs, preferences, and literacy levels of the shelter’s occupants, and use motivational interviewing and behavior change techniques to enhance their engagement and adherence. Nurses also need to evaluate the impact and outcomes of their health education, and provide feedback and reinforcement to the shelter’s occupants.

Advocacy and Collaboration

A third essential responsibility of nurses in shelters is to act as advocates and collaborators for the shelter’s occupants. This involves:

  • Protecting and promoting the rights, dignity, and autonomy of the shelter’s occupants
  • Empowering and supporting the shelter’s occupants to make informed decisions and access available resources
  • Identifying and addressing the social determinants of health that affect the shelter’s occupants, such as poverty, unemployment, education, housing, and discrimination
  • Building and maintaining partnerships and networks with other professionals and agencies, such as social workers, counselors, physicians, pharmacists, dentists, and community organizations
  • Participating and contributing to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of shelter policies and programs
  • Engaging and involving the shelter’s occupants in the development and improvement of shelter services and activities
  • Raising awareness and educating the public and policymakers about the issues and needs of the homeless population

Nurses need to use their leadership and advocacy skills to influence positive change and improve the quality of life and health outcomes of the shelter’s occupants. Nurses also need to use their teamwork and collaboration skills to coordinate and integrate care and services across different sectors and levels.


Nursing care in shelters is a vital service that can make a significant difference in the lives of the homeless population. Nurses who work in shelters need to have the competence and confidence to provide comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally competent care to the shelter’s occupants, and to collaborate and advocate for their health and well-being. Nursing care in shelters is also a rewarding and fulfilling practice that can offer nurses the opportunity to learn, grow, and make a positive impact in their community.

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