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Beyond Shelter: 5 Recommendations To Better Support Domestic Violence Survivors

Domestic violence takes a devastating toll on victims, their children and their loved ones.

Experiences of isolation, physical, emotional or economic abuse, and financial dependence leave many victims without the resources to build a new life for themselves and their children.

For survivors in crisis, domestic violence emergency shelters offer a safe refuge. Shelters have been found to reduce the frequency and intensity of ongoing violence and decrease depression. Shelters work—they help end violence in one’s life. But there is much more shelters can and should offer.

That’s why Safe Horizon designed The Lang Report, a longitudinal needs assessment to learn how Safe Horizon—and other service providers—can better support emergency domestic violence shelter residents both during and after their stay in shelter.

Here’s how we conducted the needs assessment over the period of a year:


Recommendations and Findings

From this, we learned what survivors truly need during and after shelter to thrive. Read below for our findings and related recommendations.

1. Increase Funding for Shelter Programs

Shelter works. After entering shelter, 95% of participants experienced a decrease in abuse. Yet in New York City, only 52% of hotline callers seeking shelter are linked to an emergency shelter space.

New York City and New York State should collaborate to increase the number of shelter beds available in New York City, with a focus on increasing the availability of beds for single adults and large families.

2. Improve Access to Trauma Treatment

Families need support in reducing trauma reactions. Upon entering shelter, 68% of participants met criteria for clinical depression. Upon leaving shelter, 56% of participants still met criteria for clinical depression. Upon entering shelter, 57% of participants met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Upon leaving shelter, 37% of participants still met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The current funding model for domestic violence shelters does not support the provision of trauma-focused counseling inside the shelter. And the capacity of community-based clinics to provide this service is extremely limited. Additional resources should be made available to meet this need.

Safe Horizon is enhancing mental health services in our shelter program through NYC’s Connections to Care program, and by opening on-site mental health satellite clinics within some of its shelters.

3. Enhance Financial Literacy and Job Training

Survivors need support to gain self-sufficiency. 77% of participants entered shelter unemployed. 71% of participants wanted a job or job training program.

Many community-based educational and job training resources do not offer the flexibility or the trauma-informed approach that domestic violence survivors need. Furthermore, frequent disruptions in their living situation (i.e. the transition from emergency to transitional or homeless shelters, or from shelter to permanent housing, often at unpredictable intervals) prevent participants’ from participating in these programs during their shelter stay.

Safe Horizon is piloting a brief trauma-informed financial literacy program in our shelters, and developing new partnerships with job training programs.

4. Reduce Barriers to Affordable Housing

Survivors’ number one concern is finding affordable housing. While 37% of participants were residing in their own home after leaving the emergency shelter program, 26% were living in homeless shelters.

The city has made strides in offering subsidized housing to shelter residents, but many barriers remain. The city should work with realtors and landlords to reduce these barriers, and should continue to invest in a wide range of affordable housing options, from permanent supportive housing to independent affordable housing units.

Safe Horizon has hired a housing search coordinator who works with realtors and landlords to identify more affordable housing options for clients.

5. Make it Easier for Survivors to Maintain Community and Family Connections

Many survivors need and want to remain engaged with their families and communities. Upon entering shelter, 73% wanted connection to people who can help them. Upon leaving shelter, 67% of participants reported feeling emotionally distant or cut off from their support network.

New York State and New York City should work together to provide greater flexibility for survivors seeking shelter, including allowing survivors to remain in their own borough or neighborhood and to have family members visit the shelter when the survivor assesses this to be a safe option, and piloting an open shelter model. In addition, New York City should work with shelter providers to reduce the barriers to residents (including children) having overnight visits with family.

Safe Horizon will advocate with city and state regulators to ease restrictive rules and pilot an open shelter model.