Staying at a domestic violence shelter can be a very positive experience. You will possibly have a chance to meet and share your experiences with other women and children who have experienced domestic violence. You can learn more about resources such as assistance, addiction recovery programs, and parenting support. There are toys, games, and books for children. Safe Harbors is confidential, wheelchair accessible and free.
Staying at a domestic violence shelter can also be a challenging experience. You will be possibly sharing a living space with people you don’t know very well. There are many rules that you and your children will be asked to follow. These rules are meant to help ensure that your shelter experience is safe, secure and educational and that all residents are treated with respect and cultural sensitivity.
This guide is meant to help you understand the challenges and benefits of staying in a domestic violence shelter. Please keep in mind that rules and services change from shelter to shelter so it is best to ask each shelter about their rules and services.
What is a shelter like?
Shelters are often large homes converted for group living. There are common areas shared by all residents, such as a kitchen, living room, dining room, children’s playroom and laundry room. In many shelters, you will share a bedroom with other residents. Usually, you will have a bunk-bed, as well as a dresser or closet, are for your family to store clothing and a few bags of personal belongings. Most shelters do not have storage space but they do have playground areas, off-street parking and laundry facilities.
Does it cost anything to stay at a shelter?
Staying at a shelter is free. There are times shelters that require that you participate as a group. This means that, if you can, you will share the cost of buying food for meals that are shared.
How will a shelter help to keep me safe from my abuser?
For the safety of you and your children, most domestic violence shelters are in confidential locations. This will make it harder for your abuser to find you and probably will help you feel safer. If you are staying at a confidential shelter, you will not be able to tell anyone the location of the shelter, even family or friends (besides the children staying with you at the shelter). If you tell anyone where the shelter is, you will be asked to leave. You may not be able to return to that shelter in the future. Shelters also protect your privacy and safety by refusing to give out information about you to other programs and individuals without a release of information from you.
What services do shelters have for children?
Most shelters have children’s programs that are meant to provide age-appropriate, supportive services to children and youth. Children’s program staff are trained for working with children and mothers who have experienced crisis. Through educational groups, free play time, and individual meetings, these staff people offer support, domestic violence education, and encouragement to children and mothers.
What kind of rules do shelters have?
Shelters have rules (often called policies or guidelines) meant to help ensure that your shelter experiences are safe and educational and that all residents are treated with respect and cultural sensitivity. For example, you will be required to refrain from drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs while you are a resident. Child abuse is not allowed in shelter, including verbal abuse of children and physical abuse such as spanking. You will also be required to attend meetings where you will have a chance to talk about domestic violence, parenting (if you have children at the shelter), and concerns you have about staying in shelter.
How do I get into a shelter?
The first step is to call and speak with a staff person about why you need shelter. The shelter staff will ask how many children you have with you and they will tell you if they have space available. If there is space, a staff person will ask you to come in to do a shelter intake. This may take about an hour. The purpose of the intake is to decide if the shelter will be a safe place for you and your family, to share with you some guidelines of the program, and discuss how you will get to shelter. Some of the questions may seem very personal to you and other may seem unnecessary. It is important that you answer these questions honestly.
What will I need to take with me?
If possible, take items of sentimental or monetary value, paperwork, enough clothing for at least a week, food, diapers, and personal hygiene supplies. Shelters usually can provide highchairs, car seats, cribs, linens and bedding for you to use while staying at shelter. If you are unable to take food, clothing, diapers and personal hygiene supplies with you when you leave and do not have the resources to buy these items, you can expect that most shelters will be able to provide you with these supplies.