Choosing to leave an abusive partner is not an easy or straightforward thing to do. In fact, it is the most dangerous time for victims. Learn more about reasons victims stay with abusers in DVSN’s July 2022 blog post, “Why It’s Not Always Safe/Right to Leave an Abuser”. Those who do choose to leave have the challenge of figuring out where to go. Staying with friends or family could be a possibility for some, while others need to find a shelter, hotel, or transitional housing option. Depending on their knowledge, resources, support, special needs, and the availability in their area, this can be a difficult and daunting task. In a survey of requests for service made by domestic violence victims on a single day in 2021, 9444 requests were unable to be fulfilled due to lack of resources. 64% of those were for shelter and emergency housing (NNEDV). This often means that victims must either return to their abusers or spend time unhoused. 50% of homeless women report that domestic violence was the cause of their homelessness (NCFH). This post will break down the types of housing available, what to expect from each, challenges to consider, how to find them, and some excellent resources.

drawing of several building and trees in muted earth tones with fracture lines breaking up the image

Where Can Victims Go?

Shelters

Shelters are communal housing facilities where many people in similar situations live under the same roof. There are homeless shelters for anyone without somewhere to stay and domestic violence shelters, which are similar but specifically cater to survivors in terms of security and support. Shelters do not charge people to stay there or for any of their services, regardless of residents’ finances. Both general shelters and domestic violence shelters may specialize in specific demographics or communities, such as male or female only, family shelters, elder adults only, LGBTQIA+ friendly, disability-accessible, pet friendly, etc. There are emergency shelters for short-term stays of a few days and long-term shelters for stays of weeks to months.

Exterior of a large brick building on a city street with several people on the sidewalk
Hotels

Hotels offer private rooms and bathrooms (typically) at a nightly rate. While they may offer breakfast (included or not) and/or an in-house restaurant, hotels usually do not provide cooking facilities to guests. Other amenities such as pools, gyms, laundry services, and shuttle transportation may be offered by some hotels, perhaps at an additional cost. Certain hotels offer discounts for abuse survivors and, occasionally, shelters, domestic violence agencies, charities such as United Way and The Salvation Army, and religious organizations are able to provide hotel vouchers to cover a room for a few days. Hotels are usually designed as temporary accommodation, though long-term stay hotels may have more living amenities and a better weekly or monthly rate. Other paid accommodation in the vein of hotels include hostels and peer-to-peer rentals, which offer private or shared rooms and may provide access to cooking facilities.

A young girl and mother lying on a hotel room bed looking at an ipad
Loved One/Acquaintance’s Home

Friends and family can be a great support system for survivors when leaving their abusers, including providing them with a place to stay. This may be a room in their home, an efficiency/in-law apartment, a guest house, or a second home. They likely offer some familiarity in location and companion(s) and a more comfortable, homey atmosphere. If possible, survivors may want to ask to stay with a friend or family member that their abuser is not familiar with, perhaps a co-worker or more distant relative. Domestic violence agencies, community leaders, and religious advisors may be able to provide a place to stay or connect survivors with a community member willing to put them up or rent them a space temporarily.

Three Muslim women in hijabs pouring tea at a kitchen counter, one with a religious book in her hands
Transitional Housing

Transitional housing is typically the step in between the emergency relocation to a shelter, hotel, or loved one’s home and a new permanent residence. It is often a private room, apartment, or even a small house with cooking, living, sleeping, and bathing facilities. Long-term shelters are another type of transitional housing. Some transitional housing focuses on specific populations, such as domestic violence survivors, women, immigrants, veterans, or LGBTQIA+ people. On average, survivors stay in transitional housing for six months to two years while they deal with putting their lives back together (DomesticShelters). Many transitional housing programs offer rental assistance and support services to assist survivors in learning any skills they may need and in recovering from the traumas of abuse.

Large residential building with a sign reading "Lowell Transitional Living Center" and cars parked on a street

What to Expect

Shelters

Shelters can vary greatly in size, layout, amenities, and services offered. Survivors may share a room with other residents or have a private space for themselves or their family. There are typically common living and eating areas and food, clothing, and toiletries available. About 80% of domestic violence shelters have support groups for residents to share their stories and gain support from others going through similar experiences, and/or individual or family counseling opportunities (DomesticShelters). Other services may be offered, such as legal assistance, childcare, and career consultations. Advocates and/or shelter staff are typically trained and available to assist residents in developing goals for their future and creating a plan to achieve them. Service animals should be welcome at all shelters and some shelters may allow pets in residents’ rooms, in a communal pet area, or have a pet-foster program to help find them an off-site temporary home.

Many single beds and bunk beds lined up in a large, poorly-lit room

Safety is a top priority at shelters, especially domestic violence-focused ones. For this reason, there will likely be some rules and cooperative responsibilities residents are required to follow. Personal information will be kept confidential. There are likely to be security cameras and/or alarms, both inside and out, designed to help residents feel safer and to keep an eye on who may be trying to enter the building. For security, some shelters will meet new residents off-site and transport them to the shelter in their own vehicle. Others have new residents come directly to the shelter on their own or help them find and/or pay for transportation if they do not have safe access to or sufficient funds to cover the cost of a car, public transport, or ride-share/taxi service. For safety and privacy of all, visits from friends or family of residents are generally not allowed at a shelter, and residents will likely be asked not to share the shelter location with any non-residents. Residents may not receive mail at most shelters, though some have a PO Box or other address that can be used for mail.

A large old house with security cameras in the hedge at the end of the driveway and above the front door
Hotels

Hotels also vary quite a bit in size, style, services, amenities, and privacy, which often correlates with price. They are typically larger facilities with multiple floors that are more likely to have amenities such as pools, restaurants, and gyms. Rooms often have private bathrooms and may include a dresser, desk, and/or easy chair. Hotels can range widely in price and luxury. Motels are a lower-cost option that are typically designed for travelers with a car, as far as location and layout, and may have basic kitchenettes in the rooms. Bed and breakfasts are similar to hotels, but often offer a smaller capacity with a homier feeling. There may be private or shared bathrooms, some sort of sitting room for guests, and typically breakfast is included. Motels, hotels, and bed and breakfasts usually provide towels and limited toiletries, cleaning services, Wi-Fi, basic or cable TV, and may also include appliances such as hair dryers, irons, and coffee makers.

A luxurious hotel room with a woman in a robe lying in the bed on the left and the exterior of a cheap motel on the right

Broadening the category of “hotels” to any paid accommodation can increase options and variety in amenities and cost. Hostels typically offer the cheapest beds, though they may be in basic dorm rooms shared with other guests. Shared bathrooms, cooking facilities for guest use, and some sort of living area are common in hostels. They may or may not offer amenities such as towels, toiletries, and breakfast. While many cater to young adults, all ages are welcome in most hostels. Peer-to-peer rentals, the most famous example being Airbnb, are people who rent out their spare rooms, guest houses, second homes, or other spaces. Some rentals have a hotel-like feel, whereas others are more like having an apartment or staying with a loved one. Amenities and access, such as toiletries, towels, and use of kitchens vary quite a bit with these options but should be clearly laid out in the listing.

On the left is a photo of a hostel dorm room with two bunk beds. A standing white woman is conversing with a black woman seated on one of the top bunks. On the right is a close up of hands searching Airbnb on a laptop.
Loved One/Acquaintance’s Home

When staying with a loved one or acquaintance, it’s important to respect the host’s home, schedule, and habits. It can be helpful to talk about any rules, expectations, or special accommodations necessary to either party as soon as possible. Hosts may offer to provide and/or share things such as meals, toiletries, and childcare, or may wish the survivor to cover their own costs or provide these things for themselves. Loved ones may or may not be prepared to assist survivors with other aspects of their situation, such as finding domestic violence resources, therapists or counselors, and legal options. Whether the stay is short-term or long-term, it will likely be a better experience if survivors share their situation as much as they are comfortable, what the abuser has done and may do during the transition, and if hosts are clear about what they are comfortable with as far as their home and support with regard to the survivor and the abuser.

three women hugging in a kitchen/dining area
Transitional Housing

Getting into transitional housing usually involves an application and interview process and may require a referral from a domestic violence advocate, therapist, doctor, police officer, or even a friend or family member. There are four main types of transitional housing: peer-run, house manager/lead resident, supervised, and service-provider residency. The goal is to equip residents with the tools and support they need to reenter permanent housing and be successful in the future. To this end, all types of transitional housing offer some sort of structure to residents, though how much varies. This may include things like curfews or mandatory house meetings, designed to provide accountability and help residents work toward their goals. Some programs also offer services such as support groups, peer groups, counseling or other mental health services, educational training, and life skills training. These may be optional or required. (TH.com) Staff can sometimes also help families enroll children in schools, secure health services, find employment, and search for permanent housing. Transitional housing may be partially or completely financed by state or federal funds, nonprofits, or religious organizations. Often costs to residents are on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay (TH.org).

A large group of minority race people standing on the exterior steps of a building. The central woman is holding a sign reading "Family Makes This House a Home".

Challenges

Safety planning can be an essential tool for victims and survivors in deciding what is the safest and most feasible housing choice for themselves, their family, and their particular situation. For more in depth information on safety planning, check out DVSN’s August 2022 blog post, “Safety Planning: Reducing Risk and Exploring Options” and its follow-up September 2022 post, “Safety Planning: Different Circumstances and Special Considerations”. Here, consider some of the challenges to take into account with each of the housing options explored in this post.

Shelters

Unfortunately, most shelters have limited space, finances, and staff. Victims’ preferred shelter may be full, and some can have trouble finding one that can accommodate them how and when needed. They may find more options if they are willing and able to look farther afield. Some shelters even require that residents come from at least a certain distance away. Once in a shelter, it can be a big change to have to share common areas and often sleeping quarters with strangers. Many survivors are dealing with mental and/or physical illnesses and difficulties that can affect how they interact with the world, which can result in a negative environment for themselves and those around them. The living conditions and facilities of the actual building may also differ from what survivors were used to. General emergency shelters may not be equipped to support the specific concerns/needs of abuse survivors.

Hotels

For low-income survivors, the cost of a hotel may make this option a non-starter. Vouchers or discounts for a short period may be available from certain hotels, DV agencies, charities, or religious organizations. Survivors should consider paying in cash if their abuser has access to their credit cards, as they may be able to discover their whereabouts that way. Hotels are less anonymous in general, typically requiring at least a name for their guests and sometimes additional contact information, an ID, and/or a credit card on file. Peer to peer rentals are mostly available exclusively through apps and websites that require users to create an account and use a credit card, which may be difficult or unsafe for some survivors. However, they can offer more privacy in booking if the abuser is not aware of the survivor’s account and credit card, and the majority are in residential settings that are more difficult for abusers to find than hotels. Hostels also typically allow for more anonymity than hotels, but dorm-style sleeping arrangements and a younger-skewing clientele may be a challenge for some survivors, especially those with children.

close up of a woman's torso seated at a desk, holding cash in one hand and using a calculator with the other
Loved One’s Home

While loved ones can provide a supportive and familiar place to stay, they are likely a place that abusers are aware of and would look first to find their victims. If violent abusers are able to find survivors it can put them, their hosts, and their hosts’ property in danger of attack. Knowing where their victim is staying may also mean abusers are more easily able to use other tactics and types of abuse, such as stalking and gaslighting, to harass and control them. Loved ones may not understand the severity of the situation or be tricked or manipulated into telling the abuser their victim is staying with them. Dealing with abuse, its tactics, and the trauma it creates may put a strain on the relationship between survivors and their loved ones. Survivors may not want to risk altering their relationship with friends and family or to put them in a potentially dangerous position.

Transitional Housing

Transitional housing, especially for low-income survivors, can be difficult to find. A lot of transitional housing is focused on sober housing for people with substance abuse issues, recovery homes after physical or mental illnesses, and halfway homes for formerly unhoused people or those leaving jail/prison. Facilities that cater to domestic violence survivors specifically are not as common, though survivors are usually welcome in programs with an unspecified population. There are general transitional housing programs in many communities but waiting lists may be long. Certain housing programs may give priority to survivors needing housing after leaving their abuser. Some transitional housing residents may find it difficult to comply with all of the rules and structures of the facility if they are used to being very independent and/or do not want to participate in certain programs or services.

A woman sitting at a laptop looking frustrated and the words "Please Wait"

How to Find Housing

For the security of their residents, domestic violence shelters often keep their location secret from the general public. This makes it more difficult for abusers to find where their victims are staying, but it also means victims can’t just show up at the door to ask for a bed. Police, therapists, and community advocates often have the knowledge to put victims in touch with shelters. For those looking for a shelter, contacting one of these resources may be a good place to start. Victims can usually also contact shelters directly. DomesticShelters.org has a function to search for shelters nationally by zip code. Results show how far they located are from that zip code, what services they provide (counseling, legal, pet-friendly, etc.), and a phone number to contact them.

Victims can search for hotels online, in the phone book, or at the local tourism office. Rooms can be booked directly on their websites and by phone, or through a booking services such as Booking.com or Travelocity.com. Domestic violence agencies, charities, and religious organizations may be able to point survivors to hotels which offer discounts or for which the organization can assist in covering costs. Those organizations may also be able to connect survivors with transitional housing programs in their area. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can also help connect survivors to programs, or they can search TransitionalHousing.org by state.

A woman sitting at a laptop looking frustrated and the words "Please Wait"

Housing Resources

National

National Domestic Violence Hotline – search by city and state and filter by services offered, special populations, and pets allowed to find shelters and local resources that match your criteria, 800-799-SAFE (7233)

DomesticShelters.org – search by zip code to find a domestic violence shelter, plus find tons of information about shelters & abuse

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) – federal program to provide affordable rental housing for low-income families, including abuse survivors

HUD Exchange – search by state to find homeless shelters (not domestic violence-specific). Plus, their Transitional Housing (TH) program may cover housing costs and support services for participants for up to 24 months

Family Promise – search by zip code or state to find affiliates that offer services including shelters and assistance finding housing, can sometimes assist families with alternative housing solutions to avoid emergency shelter situations

TransitionalHousing.org – search by state to find transitional housing locations, contact info, a brief description, and often photographs of facilities

College H.U.N.K.S. Hauling Junk – provide discounted moving services for domestic violence survivors and free moving during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October). A certified DV shelter must call to arrange: 833-626-1326

Red Rover – provide grants and assistance to find safe housing for survivors’ pets during a crisis

Safe Haven for Pets – search by zip code to find pet-friendly shelters or other safe places for pets of individuals experiencing domestic violence

Massachusetts

Casa Myrna – Boston’s largest provider of shelter and support services to survivors of domestic violence, including their Housing Advocacy program to assist survivors in finding and applying for affordable housing and their state-wide, 24/7, toll-free domestic violence hotline, SafeLink: 877-785-2020

Mass.gov – find phone numbers and shelter office information for emergency shelters in the state

Hedfuel – search by community to find the local housing authority, emergency shelters, and other assistance programs in the area

Concord Emergency Shelter – from March 1, 2023, DHCD is leasing all room at the Best Western Hotel in Concord to provide temporary housing for families, pregnant women, and infants

The Second Step – provides many services to survivors including transitional housing in the Greater Boston and MetroWest area

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – state-based program to provide short term emergency funds on a one-time-use basis for families who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Apply at your local county social services office

HomeBASE – can provide funds and support to overcome financial barriers to ending homelessness for those who meet income and reason-for-homelessness requirements (including abuse)

Long-Term Stay Hotels

  • Residence Inn, Dedham: 781-407-0999 x7555, 259 Elm Street, Dedham, MA 02026, $69/night
  • Hyatt Place, Boston-Medford: 781-395-8500, 116 Riverside Ave. Medford, MA 02155, $69-89/night
  • Homewood Suites, Norwood: 434 Providence Hwy Rt. 1, Norwood, MA 02062, $69/night
  • Residence Inn by Marriott, Worcester: 508-753-6300, 503 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA 01605
  • Boxborough Regency: 978-263-8701, 242 Adams Place, Boxborough, MA 01719, discounted rate $65/night

Peter Pan Bus Lines – provides free bus transportation for domestic violence survivors for medical treatment, housing relocation, or other emergency services. A DV advocate must request the service and accompany the survivor until they board the bus

Furnishing Hope – provides furniture, household items, moving and set up services to families transitioning from homeless or domestic violence shelters to stable housing

For a fuller list of resources on domestic violence, general community information, financial aid, food and medical services, emotional support, and family education and entertainment, visit DVSN.org/Resources.

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