Homeless Shelters Guidance

This Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) COVID-19 guidance provides recommendations for homeless shelters and is intended to support response planning by homeless service providers, including overnight emergency shelters, day shelters, and meal service providers. The Before, During, and After sections of this guidance offer suggested strategies to help homeless service providers plan, prepare, and respond to the threat of COVID-19.

Actions for the Homeless Shelters

Before Confirmed Transmissions

  • Establish ongoing communication with your local health department to facilitate access to relevant information before and during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Connect to community-wide planning and learn if your local government has a private-public emergency planning group that meets regularly.
  • Discussions should include what homeless service providers should do if cases of COVID-19 are suspected in their facility, if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified in a client, or if a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a person experiencing homelessness is discharged from a local hospital.
  • Identify if alternate care sites are available for clients with confirmed COVID-19 or if service providers should plan to isolate cases within their facility.
  • Identify a list of key contacts at IDPH, your local  health department, and nearby health care facilities where clients with respiratory illness can seek appropriate care.
  • Discuss reporting procedures ahead of time with a contact person at your local health department.
  • Develop contingency staffing plans for increased absenteeism caused by employee illness or by illness in employees’ family members that requires employees to stay home. These plans might include extending hours, cross-training current employees, or hiring temporary employees.
  • Address key prevention strategies that includes health messaging from credible health sources like IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Have supplies on hand for staff, volunteers, and those you serve, such as soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol, tissues, trash baskets, and disposable face masks.
  • Identify a room with a bathroom that can be used to isolate clients with mild respiratory symptoms.
  • Plan for higher shelter usage during the outbreak.
  • Identify short-term volunteers to help staff the shelter when attendance is greater or when alternate sites are needed.


  • If cases or clusters of COVID-19 disease are reported in your community, put your emergency plan into action, to protect your clients, staff, and guests.
  • Early action to avoid being exposed to the COVID-19 virus will help keep staff and volunteers from becoming infected  and assist your organization with maintaining normal operations.
  • Plan for absences and develop flexible attendance and sick-leave policies.
  • Isolate those who are sick immediately from those who are not sick and give those who are sick a clean disposable face mask to wear while staying at the shelter.
  • Be prepared to report cases of respiratory illness that might be COVID-19 to your local health department and to transport persons with severe illness to medical facilities.
  • Most persons with COVID-19 infections will likely have mild symptoms and not require hospital care.
  • Continue health care services for residents, if applicable.
  • Get up-to-date information about local COVID-19 activity from IDPH or local health department officials.
  • Be aware of temporary school dismissals in your area since these can affect your staff, volunteers, and the families you serve.
  • Implement routine preventive procedures and provide instructions to your workers about ways to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Keep clients and guests informed about public health recommendations to prevent disease spread and about changes to services that might be related to the outbreak.
  • Minimize the number of staff members who have face-to-face dealings with clients with respiratory symptoms.
  • Use physical barriers to protect staff who will have interactions with clients with unknown infection status (e.g., check-in staff).
  • Provide just-in-time training for use of personal protective equipment to staff and volunteers.
  • Enforce shelter visitor restriction policies.
  • Ensure bathroom and other sinks are consistently stocked with soap and drying materials for handwashing.
  • Ensure beds/mats are at least 3-feet apart, and request clients sleep head-to-toe.
  • If individual rooms for sick clients are not available, consider using a large, well-ventilated room.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol (if that is an option at your shelter) at key points within the facility, including registration desks, entrances/exits, and eating areas.
  • At check-in, provide clients with respiratory symptoms (cough, fever) with a surgical mask.
  • Monitor clients who could be at high risk for complications from COVID-19 (those who are 65 years of age or older or have serious underlying medical conditions) and reach out to them regularly.
  • Follow CDC recommendations on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your facility.
  • If you identify a client with severe symptoms, notify your local health department and arrange for the client to receive immediate medical care. If this is a client with suspected COVID-19, notify the transfer team and medical facility before transfer.
  • Ensure common areas within the facility are cleaned in  accordance with CDC recommendations.


  • Ensure all areas of the facility are terminally cleaned.
  • Allow residents to reside in the building once normal operations resume.
  • Monitor for symptomatic person(s) as recommended by IDPH and your local health department.
  • Monitor CDC and IDPH resources for further information.

Last Updated:  6/30/2020

Guidance Document: