Apply for the Emergency Shelter Allowance (ESA)

If you are a Pennsylvanian facing a housing crisis, you may be eligible for an Emergency Shelter Allowance. 


The Department of Human Services offers an Emergency Shelter Allowance (ESA) to help a homeless or near homeless family/individual to:

  • Stop eviction from your home/apartment or foreclosure of your house
  • Find a long-term place to live
  • Find a short-term place to stay

The ESA payment amount – up to $400 – depends on your situation.


The Emergency Shelter Allowance is designed to stop a housing crisis. For this reason, your County Assistance Office (CAO), will require:

  • Proof of your emergency and the amount needed to stop the emergency
  • Proof that an ESA will solve your housing crisis

To be eligible for an ESA, you also must meet all income, resource, and non-financial guidelines. Financial eligibility is based on the budget group's total gross annual income and limited to 80% of the current Federal Poverty Income Guidelines for persons under age 21 or families with a child under age 21.

The ESA payment amount, up to $400, depends on your needs, situation, and emergency.

An ESA may be granted only during one consecutive 30 calendar day period every 12 consecutive months.

Details regarding ESA eligibility may be found in Section 138.9 of the Cash Assistance Handbook.

The allowance for emergency shelter is exempt from treatment as income for cash assistance programs. Emergency shelter may be exempt for Medical Assistance or SNAP depending on the program rules for special allowances.


Apply for Benefits

Use COMPASS to apply for benefits, review information, check the status of applications, upload documents, and report changes

How to Apply

If you are facing a housing crisis, please call to contact your local County Assistance Office (CAO) to apply for an Emergency Shelter Allowance.

To receive this benefit, an interview is required to verify your housing situation and determine if you are eligible. The interview does not need to be in-person at your CAO.

If you are not receiving any benefits now, you must fill out an Application for Benefits before you are able to receive an ESA. The easiest way to apply for benefits is through COMPASS or at your local CAO.

If you need help to fill out the benefit application or want more information about benefits, a trained CAO staff member can help you.

Apply Now


For questions or additional information contact your local county assistance office (CAO).

Find your CAO

By Mail

Download the appropriate paper application from the list below and mail it to your local county assistance office. 

Form in English

Contact your County Assistance Office

Find your county assistance office and talk to someone about receiving an Emergency Assistance Allowance.