Situational Homelessness and a Win for the Industry
woman on golf cart smiling

By Michael Miller and Zach Quimby |

5 minute read

Shelters to Shutters takes an innovative approach to addressing homelessness and staffing shortages across the rental housing industry. 

There is a solution for every challenge and sometimes a singular solution can solve multiple challenges. One organization is casting a wide net to improve the lives of individuals and their families who are affected by homelessness while also providing solutions for staffing shortages across the rental housing industry.

The focus of “Shelters to Shutters is to transition individuals and families who are at risk or are facing homelessness to economic self-sufficiency,” says Kristen Fagley Poteet, Vice President, External Affairs with Shelters to Shutters. “The way that we uniquely do that is by directly partnering with the multifamily housing industry to provide both employment and housing opportunities—we’ve added in workforce development, career training and mentorship opportunities as well.” 


The organization was created after Christopher C. Finlay, Founder and Chairman of Shelters to Shutters and CEO of Middleburg Communities, witnessed two trends: Many of the individuals facing homelessness were “situationally” homeless and there were extremely high turnover rates at entry-level positions in the industry. Poteet described those facing situational homelessness as “individuals who have been in the workforce before and have marketable skills, but there was some sort of catalyst in their life—job loss, domestic violence or a medical emergency—that led to no longer having stable housing, for example, living out of their car, in a shelter or couch-surfing.”

Shelters to Shutters works with local organizations such as social services organizations, workforce development training organizations and technical schools to help find people in need of assistance and who are looking to get back on their feet; they are just missing the opportunity to do so—and they likely have an interest in the industry. Shelters to Shutters has its own screening process which, includes an online tool for conducting assessments on skills, personality and teamwork. Once determined eligible for the program, Shelters to Shutters participants are provided with an individualized learning pathway to help prepare them for entry-level leasing, groundskeeping and maintenance roles.

“With every individual that comes into our program, we’ll do a background check,” says David Williams, President & CEO of Shelters to Shutters. “It doesn’t preclude the employer doing that. But, we do that as well. We’ve purchased an online learning platform to provide career training in the pre-employment and post-hire phases of our 12-month program. We work with them on their resume and interviewing skills, and if they do get placed, we have a mentor who will walk along that journey with them for a year.” The organization also provides computers for continued professional development.

“The exciting thing that we found is that the individuals that we’re placing are motivated and excited, and they’re making really great employees for our industry partners. They have a higher retention rate than that of what the entry level 50 percent turnover can look like—overall just becoming really great team members,” says Poteet.

They have 40 industry partners and counting that range from large REITS to some of the smaller regional companies.

Program Reach

As the organization grew, Shelters to Shutters, out of necessity, decentralized operations out of the founder’s office and into cities across the country. This includes City Advisory Boards headed by multifamily, community and business leaders. They entered five cities—Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Houston, Nashville, Tenn., and the National Capital Region—and hired Executive Directors, who have recently celebrated their one-year anniversaries. The plan is to partner in five cities each year during the next five years. Added to the first five cities were Orlando, Fla., Phoenix, Charleston, S.C., and North Texas.

“I think it’s important to note that the local apartment associations are becoming integral in our operations. They’re becoming very supportive. In the case of Dallas, the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas funded the majority of the seed capital for us to go to that city,” says Williams, who has discussed this program in numerous other Texas and U.S. cities like Kansas City, Austin and San Antonio. “It’s not lost on us how important local leadership is, and how important the local apartment associations are as well.”

Shelters to Shutters has helped more than 450 people. “We’re often not just changing one person’s life, but really the trajectory of their family and their kids, who now have a stable home,” says Poteet.

And as the nation faces a housing affordability crisis that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams sees the work of Shelters to Shutters as even more important. “The beauty of [Shelters to Shutters’ work] is that it’s the combination [of training, employment and housing].” Innovative solutions like Shelters to Shutters and others make a difference in addressing housing affordability long-term.

Williams sees a bright future for Shelters to Shutters with a program in every major city and even the smaller ones that can support the program—paraphrasing Margaret Mead: “Never underestimate the power that a small group of people can have to change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.”

Pandemic Impacts

One of the biggest realizations from the pandemic is how important the local Advisory Boards and the local Executive Directors with roots in the community are to the program. “[We saw] just how fragile so many individuals were,” says Poteet. “With COVID-19 more people now understand how quickly the rug can get pulled out from under you.” Large job losses and being one financial situation away from no longer having stable housing was a real possibility for many at the onset of the pandemic. “It doesn’t take much necessarily for things to go south, so when that happens, [we are fortunate] to be able to help these individuals get back to a place of stability as quickly as possible and prevent additional services that they may need.”

Program in Action

David Williams: “Earlier this week, Kristen was in Atlanta interviewing participants that were celebrating their one-year hire anniversary. And, unfortunately, we were only able to video two out of the three. The reason that we could not meet with the third was because the individual was on a plane flying to another city interviewing for a job in a management role. So, let’s just think about that for one second. A year ago, this individual was dealing with not having a stable place to live or a full-time job. And now, she has a full year of maintenance tech experience, positive rental history and is interviewing for a management role in the multifamily industry.”

Update: Najua did receive the job and is now a Maintenance Supervisor! 


To learn more about Shelters to Shutters, visit


Michael Miller is Managing Editor and Zach Quimby is Communications Specialist at NAA.