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Q: Do you have to make an appointment to go to a shelter or do you just go and tell them you need help? What paperwork do I need to take with me? What if you have no money? –M.
Seeking shelter can be a temporary move, to ensure your immediate safety and the safety of your children, or it can be part of a permanent plan to leave your abuser. Shelter may be the first step, followed by transitional, and then, hopefully, new and permanent housing.
You may leave for shelter in a hurry or you may have time to plan. But in all cases, your local domestic violence shelter needs to know you’re coming, M., to ensure their safety and yours, so, unfortunately, you won’t be able to simply knock on the door—which would hopefully be difficult anyhow as most shelters try to keep their location a secret.
The first thing you should do is call your local domestic violence shelter and tell them a little bit about what’s going on—as much as you feel comfortable sharing. They will assess your situation and help you decide if shelter is the best option for your specific circumstances. You may also want to ask them some questions before deciding if that shelter is the best place for you to go. Here is a list of 12 questions to consider asking.
No matter what the outcome—even if the shelter is full and they can’t take you in that day, or if you change your mind and decide not to leave at that moment—a domestic violence advocate will be able to help you safety plan, find other shelters nearby that may have space and give you information about securing an order of protection against your abuser.
In terms of paperwork, you shouldn’t need any paperwork in order to stay at a shelter. You may stay as anonymous as you’d like if it helps you feel safer or more comfortable. However, if time allows, you should consider packing a bag with important paperwork in it before leaving your home, in case you can’t return for some time or in case you plan to never return. In “Packing Your Bags,” we provide a list of important items you may want to bring with you when you leave.
As far as money goes, shelters are not hotels and will never charge you. Executive Director Alden Henrickson of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service shelter in Jefferson City, Mo., says, “We don’t charge clients anything. We don’t care how much money you have or don’t have.”
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If you do find shelter is a fit for you and there is room available, a staff member with the shelter will most likely want to pre-arrange a specific way to get you to shelter. Some shelters like to meet survivors off site, for their safety and yours, and then bring you to shelter. Others may let you come directly to shelter. Still others may help you find transportation there if you don’t have a car or other way to leave. In any case, the transition to shelter will often be done carefully, safely and confidentially, even if you need to leave in a hurry.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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