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Home / Articles / Housing / Transitional Housing for Survivors

Transitional Housing for Survivors

What happens when your shelter stay comes to an end?

survivor moving out of home

This piece was originally published in 2014. It was updated in 2024.

Most domestic violence shelters serve as emergency housing for survivors escaping abuse, meaning they’ll take survivors in on a short-term basis while other arrangements can be made. Some survivors will move from emergency shelters directly into their own apartments, stay with friends or relatives, or even return to their residence once an abuser has been served with stay-away orders. Other times, survivors don’t know where they’ll go once their stay at an emergency shelter comes to an end, which typically happens somewhere between 30 and 90 days, depending on the program’s policy. 

In these cases, survivors may have the option of moving to transitional housing, or accommodations that serve as a bridge between an emergency shelter and more permanent housing of their own. If transitional housing is needed, your advocate or case manager at the emergency shelter will help you locate and apply for transitional housing programs in your area.

“From day three in [shelter], our case managers are working with clients to secure a more permanent housing situation,” says Amy Borst, MFT, clinical director of  Laura’s House, a domestic violence shelter in Orange County, Calif., that provides emergency shelter for up to 45 days. 

Here’s what you need to know about transitional housing.

What Is Transitional Housing?

Transitional housing is any designated temporary housing that’s offered at an affordable or subsidized rate to survivors of domestic violence (and other unhoused individuals and families) for a set amount of time until they can get on their feet and secure safe housing of their own. Transitional housing comes in many forms, including shelters, apartments or hotel rooms, depending on what resources are available in your area. 

Some transitional housing programs partner with social service organizations to provide residents with convenient access to essential needs such as food pantries and diaper banks, discounted childcare programs and more. Most transitional housing programs come with support services and resources to assist survivors in developing the skills needed to obtain or maintain employment, get established financially, become self-sufficient and begin to cope with their trauma. How long a survivor can stay in transitional housing and access these companion services varies by state and program. 

“Laura’s House has a transitional housing program that includes case management and supportive therapeutic services for six months to one year,” Borst says. Many transitional housing programs provide housing for up to 24 months.

What is Rapid Re-Housing?

Rapid re-housing is a type of federal funding that is provided by domestic violence programs  for anywhere from 3 months to 12 months, depending on the survivor’s situation.  Rapid re-housing offers rental and utility assistance to survivors, relocating them to an apartment or housing of their choice where they feel safe.  

What Is Alternative Housing?

The terms “transitional housing” and “alternative housing” are often interchanged, but they do have distinct meanings. While transitional housing describes physical living spaces that are maintained by the government (called public housing) or nonprofit organizations, alternative housing typically refers to programs that provide financial assistance to low-income individuals and families for the purpose of housing.

Habitat for Humanity and the Housing Choice Vouchers Program (Section 8) are two types of alternative housing programs, which tend to take longer to get into but can be applied for during your stay in transitional housing. Some alternative housing programs offer preferential status to people who are displaced due to domestic violence.

How Do You Qualify for Transitional Housing?

Qualifications for transitional housing vary from state to state, but many programs require that survivors have a verifiable income, are willing to submit to a background check, be drug-free and oftentimes must be referred by a local domestic violence shelter. They also must demonstrate that they are receptive to participating in supportive services offered, such as life skills classes and support groups. Such rules are purported to be designed to help survivors become self-sufficient for the long term. 

Does Transitional Housing Come Furnished?

Yes, most transitional housing units are furnished and move-in ready. They can take many forms though. Sometimes transitional housing is spread out among single apartments across a city or area. Other times, transitional housing is concentrated in a communal living facility whereby each individual or family has their own bedroom and bathroom but shares a kitchen and gathering spaces with other tenants. Some transitional housing is specific to families escaping domestic violence whereas other programs are open to a larger population of unhoused or underhoused folks. 

Can I Take My Pets?

This depends entirely on the program, but domestic violence shelters are increasingly allowing pets and/or offering assistance in finding housing for pets until you can secure permanent housing. 

Can I Go Straight to Transitional Housing?

Transitional housing is designed to act as a bridge between emergency shelter and permanent housing of your own. In most cases, transitional housing is separate from emergency shelter facilities, so if you need to escape an abuser with little to no notice, you’ll need to find somewhere with “emergency shelter” services to go to in the short term. 

If leaving isn’t an emergency and it’s safe to contact a domestic violence advocate in advance of your escape, you may be able to apply directly to a transitional housing program if you meet their eligibility requirements. There are benefits to going to an emergency shelter first, though: These programs are free and typically provide food, formula, diapers and other necessities during your stay. You’ll be in an environment with other people in similar situations who understand what you’re going through. And the programs offered are specifically designed for survivors of domestic violence, meaning you’ll receive guidance and support from experts who are used to navigating the unique challenges of survivors. 

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