Everyone deserves to live a life free of fear and violence. But going to a women’s shelter isn’t always as easy as it seems. How do survivors take the first step?
What to Expect at a Women’s Shelter
Once a survivor decides to leave, a women’s shelter is a safe place to go. Some women might stay in a shelter for a few nights until they make other arrangements. Others might stay for weeks or months while gaining new skills and connecting with resources to help them make it on their own.
No matter how long a person stays, the goal of these shelters is the same: to provide a safe haven to women (and their children, in some cases), to provide for their basic needs, and to give them the help needed to live independently.
For a more in-depth look at what happens in a women’s shelter, check out this blog.
Is There Space Available?
Entering a women’s shelter isn’t as simple as just showing up. Whether you’re leaving in a hurry or have been planning your escape for years, the shelter needs to know you’re coming.
Even if you find yourself seeking shelter unexpectedly, call first and let them know you need help.
Most shelters do not advertise their locations for security reasons, so you will need to contact them for more information. The person you speak with can help you decide which steps to take next. If you choose not to seek immediate shelter, the client advocate can still help you access resources and make a safety plan.
If you decide that today is the day, and you’re ready to leave, don’t fret if the shelter doesn’t have space. When one shelter has no beds available, they will make arrangements for you to stay elsewhere, at least in the short term. In most cases, an advocate or case worker will also arrange transportation to the shelter.
No one is turned away.
Barriers to Entering a Women’s Shelter
Unfortunately, many barriers keep abuse victims living in dangerous situations. Some shelters take women but not their children. Others do not accept pets, meaning survivors must leave their beloved furry family members behind. Women in rural areas might have trouble accessing services because they are so far away from help. If you have children, finding a shelter that accepts families is imperative. Never leave your children in an abusive environment.
Side note: this is the very reason we support Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) of Dane County. The program accepts survivors with children, giving the entire family a safe place to stay while they figure out next steps.
What Happens Next?
The most challenging part about entering a women’s shelter is taking the first step. Leaving an abusive relationship doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, many survivors will leave or attempt to leave several times before it “sticks.”
It’s scary to enter into the unknown. Sometimes, even though a relationship is abusive, the familiarity of it makes it feel safe. Calling a shelter and uprooting your entire life feels overwhelming.
One phone call can change the course of your life.
The first step toward freedom is the hardest. Once you connect with a local shelter, you will receive immediate support. The shelter will provide a safe place to stay, plenty of food to eat, and even clothing and other necessities. You will have access to counseling, legal advice, job training, and other resources to help you get back on your feet and live the life you deserve.
If you or someone you love needs help, don’t wait. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or your local domestic violence agency today.