Are shelters allowed to search through your possessions? Are shelters allowed to collect information about you?

**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer.  These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****

It is said that there are negative laws, saying “though shalt not” and positive laws saying, “though shalt.” In the context of shelters collecting information and going through possessions, here’s how those apply:

Negative Law

Because shelters have legal obligations to get healthcare for sick and injured residents, to assist the police looking for certain residents, and to fulfill contractual obligations with their funders to provide basic data about the number of people served, they have legitimate reasons for collecting identifying information about their residents. Knowing that they are liable for the safety of residents, they have reasons to be sure that people do not bring in weapons, illegal drugs, or other dangerous items. This could all be restated saying, “thou shalt not let residents hurt others or suffer harm.”


Positive Law

There are ever-increasing community initiatives to reduce homelessness. These are typically coordinated by government agencies, such as the housing authority and the health department, acting under the authority of their federal counterparts. They bring about the construction of new shelters and the implementation of new social services.

When the agency rules and regulations say things like, “every shelter resident must be informed about the public housing program” or “every shelter resident who appears to be unable to sustain gainful employment shall be referred to a disability assessment screening for potential application for Social Security or SSI Disability benefits” they are assuring that the homeless find out about their services. They are saying to shelter staff, “thou shalt collect enough information about residents that you can give them the best possible service referrals.”

A national directory of homeless shelters is available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development at

9 Replies to “Are shelters allowed to search through your possessions? Are shelters allowed to collect information about you?”

  1. I made my flight reservation and it is not until later in the month. I left a rental situatiuion where, in my opinion, my neighbor was making threats towards me. Since then I have been staying in a shelter near where I lived with my fmaily years ago. My phone has been stolen and now my state ID is not in my wallet. I cannot fly without my state ID. I smelled a mouth like smell when I urinate and my mouth feels unusual. My feet are scented with the pungent repulsive pussy odor of a self gratifier. There are not locks on the doors of the coed shelter and, in my opinion, some of the people there are severly mentally ill but they are simialr so they think they are normal. When I asked where my missing phone was no one said anything. Shelter staff and/or guests do not have any right to expose other shelter guests to oral and or other rape, adultry, disease, being photographed naked while asleep, and being used to make money for the rapists and photographers or being harrassed about what they are wearing that does not have anything to do with any person. Isf shelter volunteers and or staff are engaging in sexual activity all night instead oif guarding the safety of the guests in a coed facility populated by persons of unknown background, they should not be working in the facility. If shelter staff are part of the rapes and thefts or let it happen they should not be in the employ of the shelter. If shelter staff are sexual with shelter guests that repeatedly bully other guests like me with physical proximity and verbal abuse and bearing false withness against me when I object to their harrassment and mimic behavior of others in other settings that has been abusive, perhaps they should not be working with persons that are vulnerable or that they try to make vulnberable through sadism on the job. I am not in the shelter to endure shelter staff being passive aggressive and using sadism to try to control guests.

  2. Can a shelter dispose of your belongings after you have been discharged? How much time do they have to wait before they throw stuff away. The paperwork says they will through it away after 24 hours- is that legal? What are the relevant laws?

    1. I was curious about a shelter being able to throw your belongings away after 24hrs?I thought a person must give a specific time to come and pick up your belongings

    1. It depends on the circumstances. I have known about several times when shelters and other homeless services treated mothers and children much more decently than they treated men… as if men were automatically bad. If this place gets any federal funding and really did discriminate on the basis of gender, it is a civil rights violation. Here is the form for filing a housing discrimination claim to report the shelter.

      1. Here’s my take on searches in homeless shelters. If a hotel with lockable doors that prevent physical entry by those without a key is being used as a homeless shelter then there should be the expetation of privacy in those rooms regardless of weather money is exchanged for the service of rent. We signed a contract to live here so that contract implies a reasonable expectation of privacy. An agreement can not stand when only one side allows a compromise and the other side does not. That’s not an agreement that’s akin to internment.

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