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Meeting Survivors' Needs: Implications of Issues Raised by Survivors

The recently published Meeting Survivors' Needs: A Multi-State Study of Domestic Violence Shelter Experiences 1 (hereafter referred to as the Shelter Study) captured the voices and experiences of over 3,400 shelter residents in 215 programs across 8 states. One section of the Shelter Study focused on the kinds of problems encountered by the shelter residents and the extent to which these problems were resolved. While the overall rating of shelter experiences was very positive, many did encounter problems.

As the Final Report describes, "[s]helter residents often face a variety of problems and challenges, attributable partly to the sudden change in circumstances, living in close proximity with other families, the crisis that led them to seek shelter, and attending to their children's reactions. Challenges include finding privacy, getting along with other residents, and complying with shelter rules. During the approximately thirty years that shelters have existed, rules have been developed to help ensure the safe and smooth operation of the shelter, such as those prohibiting the use of drugs or alcohol and shelter curfews. Some specific rules were developed in response to particular incidents, such as those related to disciplining children while at the shelter. Respondents to this survey were asked about a variety of problems that the literature and the experience of advocates suggest are possible in shelters. They were also asked whether or not the problem had been resolved" (Lyon, Lane & Menard, 2008, p. 83).

Conflicts with other residents and staff, as the table below highlights, are among the main challenges identified by survivors accessing emergency shelter, affecting three in ten survivors (32%). It is important to note that respondents also reported that three-quarters (73%) of the conflicts that arose were resolved, with some respondents indicating that the problem was "resolved almost immediately once communicated to staff" (Lyon et al., 2008, p. 85). Resolution was less frequent for some of the other problems encountered.

Problems Encountered

 

% Encountered

 

% Resolved

 

Conflict w/ other residents

32%

73%

Transportation

24

54

Time limits

16

50

Finding privacy

16

47

Curfew

14

61

Child discipline

13

66

Chores

13

59

Conflict with staff

13

49

Choices of food

13

44

The data in this table is discussed in detail in Lyon et al. (pp. 83-88), and included in the Webinar materials found on VAWnet.

These findings led Dr. Eleanor Lyon, the Shelter Study's Principal Investigator, to conclude that: "Staff training in conflict resolution, while common in programs across the country, might be offered more frequently or widely. Given the frequency of reports of conflicts with other residents, training or other approaches with shelter residents might also be worth program consideration."

In Susan Schechter's Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women's Movement, one advocate described the ups and downs of shelter life this way: "Fights blow up. Tensions come out around cleaning and disciplining kids, but they often are about anger, hurt and loneliness. We have a house meeting after a blow-up; there is enormous support. Women say, ‘We're upset; I went through what she's going through, too.' Discussions bring the women back together. It's the best part of the shelter" (Schechter, 1982, p. 92). With training and ongoing support from supervisors and peers, advocates can learn techniques and enhance skills to more effectively and confidently manage conflict situations within the shelter in a positive, creative and productive manner.