What’s it Like to Live in a Shelter?
Professionals from helping agencies and battered women alike, tell us there are many negative notions about intimate partner violence shelters – shelters are dingy and dirty; residents are made to leave during the day; the places are like prisons, they are unsafe. Not one word is true! House of Ruth Maryland’s shelter is a safe place where battered women and their children live as a community dedicated to non-violence. Residents work together to keep space clean and healthy; they are assisted by housekeeping staff. The shelter is drug and alcohol free and battered women who have had substance abuse or mental health problems must be in treatment while living in shelter. Residents, staff and volunteers are equally committed to keeping the shelter location confidential to protect everyone there. Many women in shelter work; others are in job training. School-age children attend school; some others are enrolled in childcare. Trained staff is present around the clock to ensure that residents are safe and receive the support they need.
The shelter has twenty-three bright spacious, private bedrooms with baths and a large dining room and kitchen. Families help themselves to hot meals and they eat family style; licensed day care center provides child care and developmental programming for young children; large living rooms become a gathering place where women and children talk together, play games and watch movies or television.
The shelter operates a health clinic staffed by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing that provides for the immediate medical needs of our residents; our therapeutic counseling program offers an array of individual and group counseling services. Therapists work in partnership with the health clinic and our wellness program to make sure that woman and children receive the support, counseling, and nurturing that they need. Bi-lingual staff and translators are available to help non-English speaking battered women; the shelter is accessible to disabled women and children and staff receive on-going training sensitive to the opportunities and barriers that language, culture, religion, gender and race can create.
Services to assist victims with job training, job finding, housing, public assistance, day care outside shelter, medical and psychiatric services, transportation, life skills and planning to transition to independence, are provided by our case manager. Legal services, including advocacy, representation and assistance with immigration issues are available shelter residents through our legal clinic.
Length of Stay
The length of time a woman or family can live in shelter is based upon her individual needs and goals. We encourage battered women to use time at the beginning of their stay as respite, rest and sanctuary. This is the time that battered women use to look back and forward and to decide the best next course of action. Women who choose to remain in shelter beyond this period will enter the “short-term transitional” phase of the program. During this phase, we work intensively in partnership with each woman to assist her in securing income and housing. Also, we support women in utilizing the shelter’s rich offering of tools and services to work through trauma, begin to plan for self-sufficiency, and expand her capacity to grow through involvement in enrichment and wellness programs.
Childcare in the Shelter
The childcare center offers invaluable services to women in the shelter community who need time to concentrate on their own process of healing and renewal. The program provides a safe, accessible, educationally rich environment where mothers can comfortably leave their children. It offers the stability, safety and predictability so greatly needed by children who have been exposed to trauma.
The center is a licensed childcare center for children ages 6 weeks – 5 years old. Childcare is provided to shelter residents who are working, in training or treatment programs, enrolled in school, have court appearances or who have appointments with House of Ruth staff or other professionals in the community who are assisting and supporting our residents in working toward their goals while living in shelter.
We also have an after-school program for children ages 6-12 years old. Like the childcare center, it is open Monday – Friday, including 3 evenings a week until 9pm.
Transitional Housing – Extended Stay
The Extended Stay Program is a six-apartment transitional living facility where residents are eligible for subsidized rent to strengthen their financial situation; the secure and confidential location of the housing gives battered women an opportunity to use and benefit from supportive services including: individual and group counseling, legal services, child care, children’s therapy, and our health clinic and wellness programs.
We ask residents for a commitment to stay six months and the maximum stay is two years. Residents must maintain a source of income and pay subsidized rent monthly. Finally, all residents who are experiencing mental health problems or have abused drugs or alcohol must seek and stay in treatment.