In an emotionally nurturing, solutions-focused environment, residents can be enormously supportive to one another and provide companionship, humor and validation. Indeed, Shelter Study surveys completed by victims as they were entering the shelter indicated that 90% wanted support from other women. For women who have suffered in silence with issues of violence and coercive control in their lives, feeling free to talk about their experiences in the communal living environment offered at the shelter and women's support groups can be very liberating. If leaving their abusive partner or speaking out about the violence has resulted in the loss of some of all of their social support system, relationships with other shelter residents and shelter staff take on added power and importance. For individual residents, there may be a strong need for these new relationships to be successful, which can be emotionally reassuring to them at this tumultuous time. The Shelter Study found that the longer a woman stayed at the shelter, the more likely she was to indicate feeling more comfortable talking about things that bothered her (Lyon et al., 2008, p. 13).
Experience tells us some women adjust and settle very quickly into life at the shelter. The shelter may be the most stable environment some families have had for an extended period of time, and these families may become familiar much more quickly with what is available and the structures and supports that are in place to keep the house running smoothly. They may build strong relationships with the staff as well as other residents. Sometimes they may begin to feel so at home at the shelter that they become proprietary over the bathroom, kitchen, and other shared spaces.
We also know that constantly introducing new families into the shelter can prove challenging, particularly when new residents arrive with different ideas, or need a longer period of time to adjust and understand the "culture" at the shelter or the realities of communal living. Residents who are more settled, comfortable in their routine, and pleased with the current group living dynamic may view newcomers as problematic. Further, in small communities and amongst communities with close-knit or culturally-defined groups, shelter residents may have prior histories and experiences apart from the shelter that may bring conflict into the group living environment.
One particular source of conflict reported by participants in the Shelter Study involved the challenge of finding privacy, with 16% indicating that this was a problem.
Many noted that having children in the shelter added to privacy problems. "It's hard to go somewhere and concentrate because kids are running around." Others commented on the capacity of the shelter. "There is just never totally private space here -- it is offered but it is many times full" and "Sometimes the bath is the only place to get some peace, but that's not much peace because you have to be mindful of your housemates." Forty-seven percent of these problems were resolved. "Sometimes [it was a problem], but just going to the park would allow me the space I needed to get." "Own room to 'hide' in when necessary" (Lyon et al., 2008, p. 85-86).
Clearly, this is an area in which staff can provide support to residents during their shelter stay to help avoid understandable interests in privacy from becoming the source of conflict.