How to Start a Transitional Housing Program in 5 Steps

“Home Sweet Home,” the famous phrase Dorothy echoes in The Wizard of Oz, has a different meaning to everyone. But a home is more than walls and a roof overhead. It’s a comfortable safe haven that provides the opportunity to rest, recover, and build a future. Transitional housing can provide all these things for underserved communities. 

If you feel that your community could benefit from transitional housing, keep reading. Below, we’ve laid out five steps to help you start a transitional housing program.


What is Transitional Housing?

By providing support, training, and supervision, transitional housing is a safe space that gets people back on their feet after a crisis. Typically limiting stays to 24 months or fewer, transitional housing is literally a transition between homelessness and permanent housing.

It’s often faith-based, non-profit, or subsidized by the government, and can serve as a key life raft for vulnerable populations. Here are 5 steps to start a new transitional housing program.

Step 1: Determine your Target Population.

Engage your community and determine where your new program could help the most:

  • Protecting victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking.
  • Assisting victims of gang-related violence, or at-risk youth struggling with family reunification or preparing for independence.
  • Reintroducing formerly incarcerated individuals back into the community.
  • Supporting Veterans adjusting to civilian life.
  • Individuals living with mental health concerns or recovering from addiction. 
  • LGBTQIA+ youth and individuals. 
  • Helping other vulnerable groups who could benefit from temporary housing and assistance.
  • All (or any combination) of the above.

With some diligent research, you can determine which of the above groups you’ll be able to serve best. If any data on housing and homelessness is available for your community, you can use that data to help decide which population would most benefit from transitional housing.

If that information is outdated or nonexistent, you might need to work with your community to perform your own community needs assessment. Learn the current policies and systems in place, and survey groups and organizations to see who needs housing the most.

Graphic hyperlinked to download the template

Step 2: Choose the Best Possible Location for your Transitional Housing Program.

Next, find a location for your transitional housing program. 

Navigate through real estate prices and availability. Typically, transitional housing is permitted by all local zoning laws, so feel free to look in commercial or residential areas, but keep in mind what the residents will need in their area. 

Your program participants will need access to healthcare facilities, public transportation, grocery stores, and places that provide them with employment opportunities. If you’re housing youth, families, or parents with children, having schools and daycare nearby might also be necessary.

Typically, you want a space that is large enough to accommodate group-gathering, but still provides individual spaces for your participants to make their own. 

Also, work to acquire community support. Talk with residents and local businesses about their concerns and express how your transitional housing program can benefit them and the entire community. Transitional housing programs often run up against NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) sentiments and other biases. Robert Friant of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) has some tips for addressing NIMBYism

Step 3: Seek and Secure Transitional Housing Funding Sources.

Start small, and engage with businesses in your community for funds and donations, and even inquire about job opportunities for your participants. Most local business owners take pride in helping out in their community.

Then, aim big by applying to as many relevant grants as possible. There are a variety of private and government grants available for transitional housing, and you’ll want to cast a wide net.,, and Federal Grants Wire are great resources to start looking. 

Note: Grants range in their requirements and specifications. Read applications thoroughly, and apply to those that best fit your circumstances and needs.


Step 4: Prepare and Acquire Necessary Supplies.

The specifics are going to vary based on your intended transitional housing program, but begin by stocking what you would have in your own home.

You’ll require the essentials; stoves, refrigerators, tables and chairs, beds, lamps, etc. In addition, you need cooking and cleaning supplies, pots and pans, plates, utensils, and basic electronics. Don’t forget safety measures, such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors! 

Remember that your program is meant to transition its participants to living on their own. Therefore, they can participate in shopping, cooking, and house upkeep to learn life skills they’ll need once they move out.

Step 5: Utilize a HMIS to Meet Government and Funder Requirements.

Back in 2001, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) directed agencies to collect unduplicated data on the extent of homelessness, so your transitional housing program will require a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to secure federal funding.

A HMIS is a technology system used to collect ongoing data relating to the provision and success of homelessness services and housing programs. This software allows programs to create and send reports back to HUD, which help identify the specific needs of each community, demonstrate program success, and allow housing programs to sustain funding. 

Transitional Housing Programs Help Address Homelessness 

By providing safe housing and supportive services, you can offer an important transition period between homelessness and permanent housing. With careful research and preparation, you can begin planning for a transitional housing program that will best serve the needs of your community.