What is Shelter?

What to expect when seeking emergency shelter:

If you do not speak English, you have the right to request an interpreter and to have one provided to you as soon as possible.


  • When you call a shelter, shelter hotline staff will conduct a phone intake to assess the immediate safety concern and the need for shelter services. This initial call is called an “intake call.”
  • You may be put on a waiting list if the shelter is full at the time of your intake call.  If placement at an emergency domestic violence shelter is not available, hotline staff will help you create a safety plan.  A safety plan is a checklist used to assess risk and identify actions to increase your safety.
  • If space is available in the shelter, staff will work with you to schedule a move-in date as soon as possible.  You may move into the shelter the same day you do an intake.
  • Before leaving the abuser, you should remember to take or make copies of important documents such as passports, drivers’ licenses, and birth certificates.  These documents will be invaluable as you seek emergency shelter and support.  Other types of items you might want to take include:

° Marriage certificate
° Immigration documents (passports, green cards, I-94s, Visas)

° Medication and Medical records

° Birth certificate for self and children

° Social Security cards for self and children

° Phone numbers of friends and relatives

° Money, checkbook, credit and debit cards

° Insurance papers

  • In addition to important documents, you may want to take other items with you that include:

° Clothes
° Children's favorite toys

° Pictures of family members and friends


  • If you did not have time to pack before leaving to go to the shelter, do not be afraid to ask shelter staff for clothes, personal hygiene products, children’s toys, etc.
  • Once you are at the shelter, staff will complete a detailed intake with you.  This intake will include questions about the violence you have experienced.  The intake may also include a discussion on the rules and regulations of the shelter.
  • Each individual shelter program has established rules and policies in order to provide safety, equality, and support to all residents.   They will be shared with you when you arrive.  Some typical policies may include a shelter curfew, drug and alcohol restrictions, time limits for stays at the shelter, and regulations on confidentiality. Some shelters have undisclosed or secret locations.  Staff will discuss with you all the policies around staying at a secret location.

    ° Confidentiality means that shelter clients have the responsibility to uphold the location of the shelter location and to not disclose the identity of other residents at the shelter.

    ° Confidentiality is important because many women staying in the shelter are in danger from their abusive spouse or partner.  For the safety of all residents, staff, and volunteers, it is important not to tell anyone about the address or location of the shelter.
  • If you have any concerns or questions about your shelters rules, do not hesitate to talk to your advocate or ask other shelter staff.
  • When you are staying at a shelter, you have the right to be treated with respect by the staff, to have your beliefs and traditions respected, and the right to equal access to the programs resources. You also have the right to ask questions about anything that is not clear to you.


  • In many shelters, living spaces are shared by residents.  You also may be required to have a roommate.  This is something that many of us are not used to, however this is necessary so that as many clients as possible can have a safe place to stay at the shelter.
  • If you have children, you will be responsible for watching them at all times, except for when you have made other plans for childcare with the shelter staff or other residents.
  • Preparing meals is an important part of the day for many of us.  At some shelters, communal meals are prepared by clients who share the responsibility of cooking daily meals.  At other shelters, you may be in charge of preparing your own meals. Many of us have special meals we need to prepare, for example, halal, vegetarian, or kosher foods; do not hesitate to ask shelter staff to provide special items that you may need.
  • While you are at the shelter, services provided can include guidance in signing up for government assistance programs, individual counseling, support groups, legal and immigrate advocacy, and referrals to other community social services.
  • Shelters must have limits for how long clients may stay.  This is so the shelter can continue to provide services to other women and children who are in need of a safe place to escape abuse.  Remember, staying at a shelter is a temporary arrangement.  However, staff will assist you in looking for long-term housing for your future.


  • Shelters may offer a transitional supportive housing program where clients can live in an agency owned apartment for an extended period of time during which they receive counseling, case management, job training, and other forms of assistance.
  • To be accepted into a program, clients who demonstrate a need for continued support will be interviewed for approval into the program.  The cost is normally on a sliding scale.  However, there is usually a waiting list for transitional living apartments because it is a much-needed community service.