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What You Need to Know When You Call a Shelter or Safe House

Do you want to leave your husband, but have nowhere to go? Here’s what to expect at a women’s shelter. I worked at a safe house for women and children, and know how to prepare to leave an unhealthy and abusive relationship.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, know that you are not alone! I’m inspired to write this article about shelters for women and children fleeing domestic violence for two reasons: 1) hundreds of women have commented on How to Leave Your Husband When You Have No Money, saying they have nowhere to go but can’t stay with their partners; and 2) I worked as a casual relief Women’s Advocate at a safe house for women who are fleeing domestic violence. This includes emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse. If you wish you could leave but don’t know where to go, consider calling a safe house or women’s shelter. You’ll know what to expect after you read this article…

Many women stay in unhealthy or abusive relationships because they think they have no choice, but they’re mistaken. They DO have a choice…they just aren’t considering all their options.

Are you familiar with safe houses or shelters for women and children? What advice have you already received about going to a women’s shelter or safe house? I welcome your big and little thoughts in the comments section below.

What You Need to Know About Women’s Shelters or Safe Houses

This blog post isn’t representative of all women’s shelters or safe houses. Each shelter is different – even if they’re in the same neighborhood or run by the same organization. For instance, I work at one of the only shelters for women and children that accepts pets. We don’t take all types of dogs, but will do our best to accommodate women who don’t want to leave their dogs behind.

If you have any questions about what to expect at a women’s shelter or safe house, please ask below. I can’t give advice or counseling, but I am happy to share what I know about shelters for women and children.

The difference between a safe house and a women’s shelter

Our safe house is for women who are fleeing an abusive relationship, and who are actively looking for a new place to. We’re mandated for 30 day stays, but many women stay for shorter periods. We ask our residents to be actively working towards finding work or applying for Income Assistance, and we help them find a permanent place to live.

safe house for women and children

Shelters for Women and Children – What to Expect

Some shelters for women and children allow residents to stay for one or two nights only. Transition or safe houses are generally for longer-term stays. That’s one of the big differences between a shelter and a safe house is that shelters are short-term and safe houses are long-term in comparison. Another big difference is that many shelters for women and children close during the day, while safe houses are open for women to come and go as they please. Another difference – but this varies widely – is that most safe houses require residents to be clean. Some shelters allow drug and alcohol use, but off the premises.

All safe houses and women’s shelters have one thing in common: helping women who want to leave abusive men.

Expect to talk about your situation

We do a telephone assessment to determine whether we’re the right women’s shelter for you. We ask about your age, marital status, children, drug and alcohol use, health conditions, prescription medications, and current living arrangements. We don’t require you to bring identification or money, but we do expect you not to drink or use drugs while you’re staying at our transition house.

Not all shelters for women and children require their residents to be drug and alcohol free, and not all will accept women without identification. To find out what to expect at a women’s shelter near you, you need to call them directly.

Calling shelters for women and children in your community is one of the 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship.

Prepare to live within the shelter’s guidelines

During our telephone assessment, we’ll review many of our “house rules.” All shelters for women and children have guidelines to keep order and peace in the house. For example, our transition house requires residents to take turns with light housecleaning, such as mopping the floor, cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen, and unloading the dishwasher. We ask residents to treat each other with respect and kindness, even if they disagree on matters of principle, faith, culture, or values.

Different women’s shelters have different types of rooms and space available. We have a few family rooms that hold up to four people, and a few rooms with twin beds for singles. Everyone shares the five bathrooms in the house, as well as the kitchen laundry facilities.

Expect to move fast

If our women’s shelter has a free bed, you can come over immediately. We encourage you to bring your most important documents, such as your birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, health card, credit cards, and other forms of identification.

While you’re staying at our safe house – and after you leave – you’re not allowed to tell even your closest friends and family members the address. Not all shelters for women and children are in secret places, but all safe houses are. We need to protect not only you but also the other residents, staff, and volunteers.

Do you want to leave your house without telling your husband? Read How to Move Out Without Your Husband Finding Out.

Prepare to live in community with women in crisis

When I first started working at a women’s shelter, the biggest adjustment was learning how to be with women and children in serious, scary, threatening short-term crisis situations. They experienced trauma and violence and are fleeing terrible situations.

The residents of a women’s shelter or safe house are in crisis, which means they aren’t fully themselves. They have nowhere to live, no income, and no family support. They’re vulnerable, scared, and bewildered. They don’t know what happened, and they’re struggling to make sense of it all.

I always expect emotional outbursts and blowouts between the residents, and am always happily surprised at how strong and calm they are. If you’re searching for information about women’s shelters, you’re not alone. You won’t be alone when you get there, and you won’t be alone when you leave.

Start letting go of the man you love

letting go of someone you loveI wrote 3 Powerful Secrets and 75 Tips for Healing Your Heart because I needed to learn how to let go of my sister. Letting her go was the most painful and difficult thing I ever did. I know that letting go of a man you love – especially when it’s a complicated relationship and you’re planning to go to a women’s shelter or safe house – isn’t the same as letting go of a sister.

But letting go of someone you love is the same in one respect: it’s the end of a relationship you want to keep in your life. It hurts.

To write this ebook, I interviewed life coaches, counselors, and grief coaches on letting go. I know how shocking, confusing, and heart-wrenching it is when you’re letting go of a loved one. It’s devastating – and it changes how you see yourself. Learning how to let go of someone you love is about rediscovering your passion and identity.

Here’s what a reader recently emailed me about Letting Go of Someone You Love: “I gobbled the book down. Great help in putting things in perspective and in taking positive thoughtful action. Many thanks for sharing your wisdom and experiences.”

What to Expect at a Safe House for Women

Not every women’s transition house or shelter will offer the same services, but here’s what our safe house offers…

  • A safe place to stay for approximately 30 days
  • Food, bathroom facilities, and basic hygiene items
  • Advocacy for meetings with social workers, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals
  • Support for court proceedings
  • Information about market housing, job searching, Income Assistance, immigration cards, housing organizations, social services programs, health care cards and services, etc.
  • Child care support

Every woman in a safe house or shelter has different needs. Some women need assistance with their financial and legal affairs, while others just need a bed for a week. Some women are struggling with multiple house conditions and prescription medications, while others are healthy. Some women have left their abusive husbands repeatedly, while others have never experienced domestic violence before.

May you find solid, helpful resources to fill your needs, for staff and volunteers to help women and children find a good place to life. I pray for safety, for healing, and for compassion.

Information about shelters for women and children

If you’re not sure if you should go to a women’s shelter or safe house, read Signs of an Abusive Relationship You Should Never Ignore.

How do you feel about moving to a safe house for women? Tell me below. If you’ve lived in a women’s shelter in the past, please do share your experience.

What to Expect at a Womens Shelter Safe HouseIn Encouragements for the Emotionally Abused Woman: Wisdom and Hope for Women at Any Stage of Emotional Abuse Recovery, Beverly Engel offers support for women who are facing emotional abuse. She knows how abusive relationships sabotage our self-esteem, and how easy it is to falter and feel the familiar self-doubt and fear.

You may need to be reminded over and over that the abuse is not your fault. You need to find the motivation to trust your perceptions – and find the courage to change your current situation. You can forgive yourself for staying because you were doing what you needed to do! And, allow yourself to time to heal and move forward with your life.

What to say when you call a crisis line for women

When you’re in an abusive relationship, you may not even realize you’re “in crisis.” This makes it very difficult to look for assistance, make decisions about going to a women’s shelter or safe house, and take care of yourself and others.

The staff at the safe houses for women know this. They’re called advocates or women’s support workers, and they’re trained through a local domestic violence program. They can help you in so many ways.

Types of help a women’s advocate offers:

  • Identify resources in the community that you may not know about, such as local nonprofit organizations, churches, and individuals who can help you leave an abusive situation
  • Start contact with a service provider (eg, a rental housing agency or social services), and facilitate the process
  • Offer counseling, emotional support, and encouragement throughout your stay at the women’s shelter or safe house
  • Give you advice and support for your children and pets
  • Offer an external perspective and an objective opinion on how to leave an unhealthy or mentally unstable husband

Creative options and even bartering is an important type of support you’ll find at a women’s shelter or safe house! For example, the other women who are fleeing domestic violence may not have a source of income or stable finances. Like you, they won’t have money to pay for childcare. Many safe houses encourage women to trade childcare services, especially if financial assistance is low. You can watch each other’s children and give each other time to take care of the next steps in your life.

When you call a women’s shelter or safe house: 

  • Keep telling yourself, “I can do this.”
  • Do not be discouraged if you can’t move in immediately. Remember that many shelters and safe houses for women and children are busy places, and may not have an immediate bed or room available.
  • Keep trying! Don’t allow the abuse to win, don’t let the violence overcome you.
  • If you are not comfortable with the staff or volunteer at the shelter who is helping you, ask for another advocate or counselor. You might even try to find another domestic violence program.
  • Get a list of possible resources for women leaving abusive relationships from different places, programs and organizations. Most states have the free phone service, 2-1-1, which will connect you to advocates who can help you find additional resources in your area.
  • Take your essential documents available when you go to an appointment: birth certificates, picture ID, driver’s license, passport, and utility bills (to show residency). Learn what documents you will need ahead of time.
  • Make your calls from a place where you can engage in a conversation and take care of possible interruptions ahead of time (e.g. have little ones take a nap or call when children are playing at the neighbor’s).

The above information is from the article Personalized Safety Plan from National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

When you call a women’s shelter or safe house, be patient, speak clearly, and do not give your story to the person who answers the phone or the first contact person. More than likely, you will have to tell your story all over again to the person qualified to help you.

Give clear and specific information about what you need (e.g. “I need a pro-bono family law attorney for a child custody case, and I am a victim of domestic violence”). Then let the women’s advocate or service provider ask you for the information they need to qualify you for the services. If possible, have an advocate initiate the contact with the referred service provider.

Keep moving forward in your search for the right shelter or safe house

You’re in a difficult place. It’s really hard to leave an abusive relationship or violent marriage, especially if you’ve been with your husband for years or even decades. Allow yourself to grieve and feel pain. Know that you will come through this, and you are deeply loved!

Be patient, and know that you will be taken care of. You can do this.

While I can’t offer advice about moving to a women’s shelter or finding a safe house, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of shelters for women and children. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings about going to a safe house.

May you find strength and courage as you search for a local safe house or women’s shelter near you. Know that you are loved, and that you were created for a purpose. You deserve love and kindness, respect and honor. May God bless you with wisdom and guidance, and sustenance for the journey. Go forward, and don’t look back. Keep your eyes focused on the life you’ve always wanted, and your life will fall back together.


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11 thoughts on “What You Need to Know When You Call a Shelter or Safe House”

  1. Hi your blog give me hope and encouragement. I am in a sexual abusive relationship with my husband. He is an alcoholic. He has been drinking on and off during our 14 year relationship. We got married in 2010 so we have been married for 8 years in June. I need to learn to accept his drinking and if I cannot do that, I need to make a choice. To stay in this abusive relationship and go on and let go the one I love. I really do not know what to do.
    I am thinking about going to a women’s shelter where I live It takes women for 30 days where I can think and be away from my husbands abusive ways.
    I do not know why I am sharing this part of my life to a “stranger” but I thank you for your ending paragraph. Thank you for the hope and encouragement you have given me and all women who has a chance to read your article.

  2. I was put into shelter with my then 7m old baby , i was working from home but my income wasn’t enough for me to rent a flat independently but I couldn’t work in the shelter without internet connection. My son is now 2, i have a bit more work that need space for storage – face painting and unboxing toys, in the shelter we have one single bed and a small cupboard to place our belonging. My husband has just decided to stop paying for rent, if i take the step to go to shelter I will loose my jobs, what should i do? I’m feeling so helpless

  3. I decided that I can’t stay with my husband anymore. He is very manipulative and threatens to take our daughter if we divorce because of my resident status ( he is citizen and I am not). It has always been like this. He used to drink but two years ago he stopped and started using drugs. This is third month he hasn’t paid the rent, and I already spent my savings for the previous two month’s rent, and some tickets he had. I have a part time job, and dont make much.I am ready to move out, find a studio or only a room for me and my daughter but I would like to know if i have a legal right to leave him and can he accuse me of kidnapping our daughter, because that’s what I can expect from him. Thank you!

  4. Dear V,

    Going to a women’s shelter is so scary, I totally get it. You’ve been with him for so long, for over a decade! Making a major life change is difficult even under the best circumstances, even when you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing.

    And when you’re coping with low energy, no self worth, and isolation…it is completely understandable that this is a huge step for you!

    It’s the first step that’s the hardest. Truly. Once you take that first step, you will find yourself supported and cared for in ways you don’t expect. This doesn’t mean it’ll be easy living at a safe house or shelter, because women in crisis aren’t exactly in a spa-like mood….but you will be on your way to creating a new life for yourself. And that will give you energy and life.

    How are you, where are you?

    With warm prayers,