A variety of programs and services already exist for abused victims to treat and prevent domestic violence. Since 1964, more than 1800 transitional housing shelters for abused women have been established in the United States. Initially designed to simply provide a safe place for victims and their children, shelters now provide a wide range of programs. At shelters, victims of abuse may receive legal assistance, counseling for themselves and their children, referral to other treatment programs (substance abuse programs), and additional advocacy services. In 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which authorized more than $800 million in federal funds for state and local programs to combat domestic violence. One federal program was established by the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Among other things, this act established adult education programs, provided emergency homelessness prevention funds, and created a number of transitional housing programs. These government programs have made the lives of many homeless and abused women more tolerable, but there is still great need from churches and other Christian groups to provide additional sources of help. While the government does provide some services, most of the help for the homeless, including abused women, comes from the private sector, principally from churches that operate shelters, and distribute clothing and other essentials. Studies find that many factors such as economic, interpersonal, cultural, and social, prevent victims from leaving violent relationships. But those victims who do seek help from community services often find that agencies are overwhelmed and limited in their resources. One way churches can help abused women obtain transitional housing is to either open a transitional housing shelter or to provide transitional housing in the homes of its members.
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Opening a transitional housing shelter may be complicated by various state laws or it can be as simple as providing rooms in the homes of Christian families in the church membership. If several families within a church are interested in providing a temporary room for a victim of domestic violence, then they can come together and form a net work of safe haven shelters for those victims, such as the Go Fish Ministries idea of a Safe Haven program, which is designed for helping women and children who need assistance getting out of abusive relationships. This program seeks to help women and children stay out of the abusive relationship by raising self esteem through education, inspiration, and modification of physical circumstances. It attempts to educate women to the options and possibilities of seeking a higher education, or resume preparation for those who do not choose to go further in their education and need to reenter the work force. It inspires women with godly principles of faith and lifestyle examples. It modifies their physical circumstances by encouraging the victim to remove herself from the abusive relationship in order to stop enabling the abuser to continue the abusive behavior. When available, rooms are provided in the homes of Christian families for women and their children in a non-disclosed location for temporary transitional housing shelters until other arrangements can be made when there is imminent danger. Women are required to keep locations secret from friends and family, or any other person not directly involved with the program, due to the risks involved in leaving an abusive relationship. Physical circumstances are also modified by providing food, clothing, and self-esteem building makeovers when necessary or requested. Donations of time, money, food, shelter, and clothing are solicited from church members for these purposes. Reputable reading material is made available for self-counsel, while recommendations are made for those wishing to seek professional counseling or legal services. Support groups consisting of women who are seeking to remove themselves from abusive relationships and mentors who have successfully removed themselves from abusive relationships are also provided.
Opening an actual transitional housing shelter may be a bit more complicated than this church run program. Check out any state and federal laws that may be related to running a shelter. The laws of all 50 U.S. states provide that domestic violence is a crime. These laws have made it easier for victims to obtain protective or restraining court orders that prohibit offenders from having contact with them at the shelters or anywhere else. Also, laws in most states allow police officers to arrest people suspected of committing domestic violence without the victim filing charges. Shelter staff may want to encourage victims to file charges. Zoning and building code laws should also be checked out to see whether the home(s) chosen or to be built would have any restrictions.
After these things are squared away, converting a home into a shelter for victims of domestic violence is not that difficult. You probably need at least a 3 or 4 bedroom home with at least two baths. You should have no more than two bedrooms per bathroom, so an addition bathroom facility may need to be installed. Each room should have at least two twin beds or bunk beds, so that a mother can sleep near her children. Larger rooms may have 3 or 4 small beds or two bunk beds. There should be one room per family when possible as generally a family needs its privacy and space. A mother and three children might stay in one room, while another mother with two kids stays in the other.
You need one room designated for the live in house guardian, who will oversee the program for the house. The live in guardian probably should not share a bathroom with the clients, as well. That guardian should be well trained, preferably a female counselor or minister, in order to provide immediate services to victims coming in. A small library of helpful books, videos, and pamphlets should also be installed somewhere in the shared quarters of the home, possibly a bookshelf in the living area. You may also want to provide additional female volunteers to come in and give counseling and legal advice, help with planning and cooking meals, washing linens, and giving personal make-overs, etc. The women who come in to the program should be expected to help with the daily chores and wash their and their children’s own clothes. The shelter home, especially the shared living areas, should be child safe, with no medications, hazardous materials, or breakables in low and accessible places, etc. The home should also have a good security system and police should be aware of the potential need for extra services in the area.
Most shelters would also do well to have a private garden for growing vegetables and flowers, as gardening is both therapeutic for the victims and helpful to the home if providing some food stuffs. A small prayer garden with flowers and a fish pond are also quite therapeutic to victims. Feeding the fish, planting flowers, and weeding are all chores the children can participate in. A house pet that is child friendly is also a good therapeutic tool for the kids. Feeding and playing with a cat or dog is a good distraction for kids exposed to violence, though the pet should be safeguarded from children who might abuse them. Children should never be left alone with a pet. Victims should generally be limited to a 30-60 day stay at the home or until they can find the necessary more permanent housing they need to get on with their lives.
Though opening a transitional housing shelter may seem difficult, it can be a very rewarding experience for those called to minister to abused victims of domestic violence. Transitional housing provides not only a safe place to stay, but a welcoming and therapeutic home for families to heal in. When churches and Christian organizations provide these resources, it says to the victims that they are not alone and that the church cares about them. Many of these victims of domestic violence have been told by church members in the past that they should stay in abusive relationships, but when these services are provided, they no longer have to suffer in silence. Church members who care should seek to open transitional housing shelters for their own abused church members and others who are abused in their communities. It’s a very worthy endeavor.
If you liked this article you may like my book Don’t Be Silent: Stop Domestic Violence
- The Signs of Domestic Violence (everydayhealth.com)