Ettiquette when providing a safe, warm place to stay for the night

by Anna

This is a question about hosting, but not the normal, social hosting. This is about hosting people who need a place to stay for a night or some number of nights, e.g. homeless friends, travelers passing through, people in between homes, etc.

I guess I'm wondering what are my minimum obligations once I accept the guest, what would the "ideal host" do, how do I politely but firmly set boundaries, and that sort of thing.

For example, am I obligated to turn the heat up for the guest higher than I would for myself? If it is my custom to only turn the heat up enough to keep the pipes from freezing, or only to 48F, or only to 60F, but I have a guest who does not feel warm until it reaches 64F or 74F or whatever, am I obligated to turn the heat up, or can I just give them pile of blankets, including a space blanket, and tell them to make do?

If it is my custom to turn off all non-essential electric circuits (everything but the one with the refrigerator) at night to save on my electric bill, but a guest complains that this inconveniences them, am I obligated to leave the electricity on? What should I do if I concede, but then the light they use keeps me awake?

For multi-night visitors, am I obligated to allow them to stay in my home while I am out during the day, or is it okay if I ask them to leave and come back in the evening? Does it make a difference how well I know them, and if they are ill or disabled?

If I have asthma, how can I politely insist that they avoid exposing me to asthma triggers, even where this may impose some inconvenience on them and break their ordinary routine? If they do not follow my instructions and I have an asthma attack as a result, or if they fail to understand the severity of my sensitivity and some steps to mitigate the problem but those steps are insufficient, or if they argue with me and insist that it would be too great an inconvenience for them to accommodate me on this, how do I deal with the situation gracefully?

What are my obligations with regards to providing food? Do I have to provide food, or can I tell them to buy their own / hop on over to a nearby food bank? If so, do I have to actually cook, or can I just say, "there's cereal in the cupboard; get yourself a bowl when you are hungry"? If not, do I need to go out of my way to avoid eating my own meals in front of them? What if they don't want to leave long enough for me to prepare and eat a meal alone?

How much time am I obligated to spend with them socially? How much energy am I obligated to invest in listening to their problems? When I no longer have the energy for these things, how do I politely insist that they give me some space?

How do I set clear boundaries on the matter of "don't bother my neighbors" and deal with anyone who fails to follow this rule?

What do I do about the ones who wake up and pace at 3AM in the morning, waking me up, or won't go to bed until I talk to them for an hour or more?

What do I do if they are asking me for things right when I'm trying to go to work or go out to run other time-sensitive errands?

If they are napping during the day, is it polite for me to engage in my ordinary routines, like cleaning, even if those routines are noisy?

If I give someone a time limit, and once it is reached they act like I am evicting them, what do I do?

If a guest bothers me too much, how do I insist that they leave before this time limit is reached, and under what circumstances would it be appropriate for me to do this?

If my rental lease has a no-pets clause, what do I do if someone did not tell me they had a pet but shows up with one?


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Feb 01, 2015
Are you a homeless shelter NEW
by: Anonymous

Unless you are, you are putting yourself in great danger. You are under no obligation at all to these "guests." Where are you meeting these people?
In fact, you may possibly be breaking the law by having these people make prolonged stays in your home without some kind of license if these are not actually friends or relatives. How old are you? Male or female? Do you have anyone else living with you, such as a spouse, adult child, etc. who can help monitor these people especially when you leave them at home while you work. I am trying to say this kindly, but I worry that you are actually thinking clearly about what you are doing. Maybe you can do volunteer work with the homeless through a church or synagogue or a charitable agency. Please take care of yourself and be safe.

Nov 24, 2010
Wait Until You Are Ready To Host
by: Anonymous

It doesn't sound like you are in a position for hosting at this time. I sense that while your head might tell you to host,your heart is not really into this, hence all of the dilemmas surrounding whether or not you should extend yourself (via cooking) or do anything to make your guest comfortable if it isn't within your own parameters of comfort or budget. I think that a guest is a guest and should be treated as such, regardless of their social position (i.e. whether they are homeless or not). That is the definition of class and elegance; treating everyone with kindness, regardless of their social position.

Treating each guest with the same kindness by extending ourselves and providing a nice bed, warm room, good food and good company is one of the nicest things we can do. I guess what bothers me the most about your question was thinking about how the guest would feel. For a person to be down on their luck and homeless, once of the nicest things might be a warm bed for the night, a good hot meal and to be treated like they were luxury, even if for a night. A too hot room would feel good to a man or woman who is cold. A hot meal cooked on stove might fill a stomach that has been hungry a long time and having some leftovers for them to take, would help them too. Having someone to talk to over a meal along with everything else might help a person whose self esteem has suffered a bit with their current personal crisis. It is those times in our life, when human kindness matters the most. On the flip side, having a place to stay where they host didn't want to extend themselves, would make me feel very uncomfortable, as if I wasn't wanted or that I was a burden.

To answer your question, when you are ready to extend and give of yourself, then you are ready to accept people into your home. At that time, I would make an exception to your rules and provide maximum comfort in terms of heat, food and comfort for your guest. I think providing a nice warm dinner, a warm bed and bath, a nice room and some company. After dinner,you might talk a bit about some house rules, i.e. you are glad to have them in your home and hope they will be comfortable. Then you can mention that they are welcome to stay until x time in the morning and that breakfast is typically low key so they should feel free to get up and make themselves some coffee and breakfast, etc. and then show them where everything is. I'd also prepare some leftovers to take with and insist they take them. At that time, you can add that the only request is that they don't smoke due to your asthma or whatever. I would not turn off all of the circuits at night. In essence, treat them with kindness as if they were your best guest. You can return to your normal routine of not using much heat and electricity once they leave. As for pets, be clear about that up front. Good luck.

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