Many people are surprised to learn that our shelter is in a publicly disclosed location—our address is advertised and our shelter is attached to our offices. While it may feel counterintuitive to many, this offers a variety of benefits for our clients.
Secret or “confidential” shelter locations are rarely truly secret. Victims who return to their abuser share the location of the shelter with that person, either voluntarily or by force. They may also share the location with family or friends, possibly trying to help those loved ones receive help themselves for an unsafe relationship. In situations like this, neighbors will likely pick up on the transitory nature of the residents, as well as the number of people coming and going, and realize it is not a typical residence.
Confidential shelters also tend to be designed to look like a typical residence, designed to “fit in”. As a result, they often lack more sophisticated security, because it could identify that location as the shelter. If you pair a known location with a lack of security, the risk to safety is much higher.
Living in a confidential shelter also tends to impose limitations on clients. There might be a curfew, an inability to open windows due to safety concerns, or a less obvious security system. Professional agencies and supports like home visiting programs are likely unable to provide services to those clients while they live in the shelter. A client might also encounter issues with Probation and Parole or Child and Family Services if they are unable to disclose their housing location.
Lastly, making victims hide and live in secrecy can reinforce the feeling that the violence is their fault. The onus is often on the client to uproot their life, live in a shelter, and hide that they’ve sought shelter or other services from even their most trusted friends and family. This continues to give their abuser a drastic level of control over their life.
A non-confidential location mitigates some of the risks victims typically face in seeking shelter. Our shelter has a high level of security that includes camera surveillance and monitored building access. Local law enforcement knows where we are and openly does extra patrols. Our neighbors know who we are, and they keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Clients can meet with providers and support people in our offices. We also have an arrangement with some agencies so they can have access to clients in our shelter if that’s necessary. As an example, Child and Family Services can come here to do home visits or checks on children in trial placement.
Our facility also sends the message that our clients have nothing to be ashamed of, have done nothing wrong, and they do not need to hide from the community because of the violence they have endured.
Every program encounters its own unique barriers—often because of a lack of resources. For our program and resources, we feel that a non-confidential shelter works best for our clients, agency, and community.