Blog: Barriers to Shelter Use

October 4, 2022

The blog “Barriers to shelter use”, written after some thorough research, intends to explore the barriers that the unhoused population experiences and the challenges they encounter at many levels while trying to access emergency shelter and housing services in Edmonton. 

By Ankur Subedi, ESPC Volunteer


Homeless populations are one of the most affected demographics across the province. There has been a significant increase in people experiencing homelessness. It is estimated that approximately 700 to 800 people sleep outside on any given night, and there are 2800 people in Edmonton with no permanent address (CBC, 2022). Providing them with emergency shelters is an appropriate intervention to meet their physical and psychological needs and assist them in developing the skills needed to live independently and transitioning them back into the community.  

Alberta recently announced an investment of $21.5 million for emergency and homeless shelters (CBC, 2021). While the intent of this action is humane and commendable; the shortage of emergency shelters is another reality. This shortage leads to overcrowding, which creates unhealthy, unsanitary, and even dangerous conditions in some shelters and facilitates the possible transmission of communicable diseases and pests (Rankin and Skinner, 2016). Living in such conditions can discourage members of the homeless population from seeking shelters (Rankin and Skinner). Other barriers include the rules and restrictions that shelters have in place which can make services inaccessible to those in need; and involve restrictions on people’s autonomy and independence (Rankin and Skinner, 2016). Another example of a barrier is that most shelters are restricted to either single males or single females. Families, youth, couples, and transgendered individuals, consequently, are automatically excluded from most shelters (Rankin and Skinner, 2016). Their feeling of exclusion can result in chronic and episodic homelessness throughout their lifetime, and they are likely to face more barriers and complex challenges involving physical and mental health, addictions, and violence that further result in long-term and ongoing homelessness (City of Edmonton, n.d.). 

Although identified as an area of need for homeless populations, it is not always easy to access these emergency shelters. Mack and Wismark (2021) highlight an important fact about the homeless population and their inability to access emergency shelters and social services because most of the population trying to access the services do not have permanent addresses. Their barriers to being housed only increase, leaving them with fewer options, limited choices, and substantial obstacles to overcome. The homeless community is treated discriminatorily as criminalized intruders, so it has only increased their barriers to housing and shelter use, which makes them more vulnerable to abuse and harm (Mack and Wismark, 2021). Further research and findings indicate that structural barriers faced by the homeless population include inadequate homeless resources, employment challenges, discrimination by law enforcement, hot climate, lack of transportation, and legal concerns (Ferguson and Sample, 2019). Situational barriers include interpersonal relationships, the street environment, and lack of personal resources whereas intrapersonal barriers include behavioral, mental, and physical health challenges, reluctance to reach out for help, money management, and lack of desire for stable housing (Ferguson and Sample, 2019).  

It will be interesting to observe how the $21.5 million will be utilized to ease and address capacity issues at the shelters. As the province has recognized the need for financial assistance, the hope is that it will help mitigate at least some of the barriers to shelter use for the vulnerable community. 


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Ankur Subedi is a Social Work student at the University of Calgary. Having completed the Social Work Diploma from Norquest College, Ankur comes with a diverse background in community involvement, and is presently working towards her Registered Social Worker designation. Ankur recently connected with ESPC to give back to the community. 





  1. CBC Radio Canada. (2022, April 23). Number of homeless people in Edmonton expected to grow, City Report says | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved from
  2. CBC Radio Canada. (2021, November 17). Alberta announces $21.5 million to help homeless, domestic violence shelters this winter | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved from
  3. Ferguson K. M. & Sample, K. (2019). It shouldn’t be this hard: Systemic, situational, and intrapersonal barriers to exiting homelessness among homeless young adults. The Homeless Hub. Retrieved from
  4. Mack, C. & Wismark, J. (2021, November 19). Opinion: Homelessness in Alberta is a public health emergency. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from
  5. Rankin, K.S. & Skinner, S. (2016). SHUT OUT: How Barriers Often Prevent Meaningful Access to Emergency Shelter. Seattle U School of Law. Retrieved from
  6. The City of Edmonton. (n.d.). Current State of Homeless in Edmonton. Retrieved from 


Related categories: Blog: Housing
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