Moving off the streets

There are options available if you’re sleeping on the streets. The council has a legal duty to help most homeless people find somewhere to live. Charities can find you a safe place to sleep too.

Get help if you have nowhere to stay

Day or night, contact the council if you have nowhere safe to stay.

You should be given accommodation on the day you need it.

The council must help if you are homeless or likely to become homeless in the next two months.

Get help from the council

The council can help with:

  • temporary accommodation

  • storing your belongings and possibly pet care

  • permanent accommodation

  • general housing advice

Find a place to stay if the council cannot help

It’s usually easier to get temporary accommodation by making a homeless application to the council.

You might not be eligible for help because of your immigration status, or you might not want to engage with the council. In these cases, you might be able to get a place in a shelter or refuge without making a homeless application.

Night shelters

Some areas in Scotland have emergency night shelters. These can be ‘direct access’. This means you can turn up as soon as they open to check if they have any vacancies that day.

Other night shelters have entry requirements, such as only accepting referrals from homeless support agencies. Check with local shelters to find out if they have requirements.

Winter night shelters

During the coldest months or over the Christmas period, temporary cold weather shelters may become available.

Winter night shelters are generally free of charge and provide a bed and food. Most winter shelters are open in the evenings and overnight only.

What are shelters like?

Shelter accommodation varies from place to place. You might have your own room, you might share a room, or you might sleep in dormitories.

Some shelters have strict rules. You might have to leave during the day and be in by a certain time each night. Generally, shelters provide:

  • meals or cooking facilities

  • a laundry room

  • washing facilities

Accommodation for specific needs

Some shelters cater for the specific needs of:

  • young people

  • older people

  • women

  • people with mental health problems

  • people with alcohol or drug dependencies

Specialist accommodation shelters can have long waiting lists. You will probably need to be referred there by a social worker or homelessness organisation. To find out more, speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser.

Pet-friendly shelters

Most shelters and refuges do not accept pets. If you are trying to find somewhere to sleep overnight with a pet, you will need to check if the shelter accepts them first.

Find a dog-friendly hostel near you

If you cannot arrange or afford commercial kennelling, you can contact the Pet Fostering Service Scotland on 0344 811 9909. They might be able to look after your pet temporarily while you find somewhere you can both stay.

How long can I stay?

The length of your stay will vary from place to place. Some refuges allow you to stay night-to-night. Others allow you to stay as long as you are engaging with the support on offer.


A refuge is a safe place for people experiencing abuse. They help people overcome the impacts of violence and abuse by offering practical and emotional support.

To get a place in a women’s refuge you can:

There are currently no refuges for men experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland. However, you can still contact specialist support organisations to see what help is available in your area.

Contact the Men's Advice Line
Contact Abused Men in Scotland

You can also find support for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse.

Paying for shelters and refuges

Most shelters provide a place to stay for free. However, refuges such as Women’s Aid charge rent.

Housing benefit can often help pay the rent. The refuge staff are there to provide advice and support with any applications.

In addition to rent, you might also be asked to pay a small contribution for your meals and other services, such as cleaning and laundry.

Check if you're entitled to benefits

Use the Turn2us benefit calculator

You’ll need information on your household’s:

  • income and savings

  • outgoings, such as rent

  • existing benefits and pensions

  • council tax bill

Get help managing your money

Services that can help with budgeting, applying for benefits, and debt:

What if I’m asked to leave?

People staying in shelters and refuges have very few occupancy rights. If you break the rules, you can be asked to leave without the need for a court order.

Other accommodation

It may be possible to access your own permanent or longer-term accommodation straight from the street.

This kind of accommodation varies from area to area. They include:

Most local areas have charities that support homeless people wishing to be housed. They can also offer practical help with:

  • benefits

  • housing applications and referrals

  • access to digital equipment

  • arranging housing support

The council can provide you with housing advice to explore all the options available to you. This service also helps identify other issues, such as debt or mental health problems, so that the right support measures can be put in place.

When to contact Shelter Scotland

Contact an adviser if:

  • you’re asked to leave a shelter and have nowhere to go

  • you’re turned away from a homeless application

  • the council do not offer you temporary accommodation

  • you want to find local charities who can help house you

Last updated: 15 June 2021

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England