On any given night in the United States, 610,042 people experience homelessness, according to the “U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report,” where the agency looked at a single night in January 2013 and estimated the number of homeless in this country. And of that total number, the agency reports, more than 396,000 people live in transitional housing or some type of emergency shelter facility.

In regards to furnishings and fixtures, these shelters often times rely on thrift store products or discarded and donated items. Products of this kind often cannot handle the continuous use found in these environments. Also, the products are not suited to combat the hygienic challenges that shelters often face. Inevitably, and often quickly, the products break or become unusable, and shelters find themselves in search of replacement items, which may put an unexpected dent in the budget.

To assist shelters and transitional housing environments looking to invest wisely in their facility and create a residential feel inside their walls, we have listed in detail below what to look for in durable, shelter furniture. For in depth information on this topic, download our Proper Furnishings for Shelter and Transitional Housing Facilities White Paper.


Mattresses, in short, can become a mess if you let them. That is if you pick a product that is not suitable for the environment. Standard residential quality cloth mattresses are constructed with cloth sewn seams, easily penetrated by bedbugs. Any serious manufacturer for the shelter market will provide mattresses with an impervious fabric with inverted sealed seams thus locking out bedbug infestation and the need for separate slip covers and fumigation. Shelters combat constant use, bed bugs and bodily fluids. So when picking mattresses, look for antimicrobial covers and bedbug-resistant, inverted sealed seam construction, which is the premium option for shelter environments. The exterior also should be non-absorbent, crack resistant, anti-static, anti-bacterial, stain resistant, anti-fungal and breathable.

Bunk beds

In order to save on valuable space, some shelters may opt to install bunk beds in their facilities. If so, make sure the beds are made of steel and are equipped with rounded edges for safety. Also, to ensure beds aren’t tipped over or moved, shelters may want to bolt the beds down for safety and equip them with safety rails and sturdy ladders. If fitted with spring mattress decks, watch for sharp ends or spring protrusions that can snag or tear mattresses.

Dining table bases

Legs, x-bases and pedestal bases are all acceptable in shelter facilities. In general the bases should come with T-nuts in the tops to accept machine screws with Loc-Tite® to assure the bases will never loosen or wobble.

Selecting dining chairs

There are many different chairs on the market that are suitable for the different kinds of seating environments found in shelters. For example, in individual kitchen units or dining halls that also serve as multi-purpose rooms, it’s desirable to have individual chairs that can be stacked when not in use or that can be arranged in rows for meetings. For dayrooms, activity rooms and meeting rooms, shelters may want to consider lounge chairs that can be bolted down, ballasted or freestanding and come in a more residential design.

Book cases

Books are an effective way to make a facility feel more like home. Shelters may want to stray from traditional free-standing, residential book shelves and go with products made of high-impact polymer that can be mounted to a wall. Also, look for seamless construction for easy cleaning and rounded edges for safety.

Night stands and drawer units

These two products can give personal space to those staying at a shelter facility. Like beds, it is recommended that wood night stands and drawers not be used. Instead look for steel or high-impact polymer pieces that come with optional laminate tops and sturdy construction. If choosing steel, select pieces with welded drawer glides and drawers that cannot be removed.

In conclusion

When choosing furniture for your facility, the key questions to ask are:

  • Can I choose colors that are non-institutional and that can complement the design of my facility?
  • What is the product made of and is it resistant to bed bugs and fluids and easy to clean?
  • Do the pieces come with residential laminate accents and durable upholstery options to make the furniture feel more residential?
  • How do I know it’s durable? What testing has the product undergone and is it made for constant use?
  • What are the mattresses made of and do they come with an inverted or sealed seam?
  • What other facilities have used the same products and what success have they seen?

Further Reading – White Paper: What to Look for In Shelter Furniture