Domestic violence shelters move out of hiding
Bozeman, Mont. — Sara Young packed a bag of essentials, gathered her kids, and fled her home to a refuge: an old, green house that blended in with the neighborhood in this southwestern Montana city.
Nothing about the house identified it as a domestic violence shelter — it was hidden in plain sight. Young wasn’t allowed to give anyone the address. The secrecy made her feel safe. But her roommate, a young mom, struggled to care for her baby without her family there to help. Some residents couldn’t get to work because they didn’t have a car. Several housemates tried to sneak out at night for a break from curfews, locked windows, and alarm systems.
“We were there because we needed to be kept safe,” Young said. “For me, it was comfortable. For them, it felt like being in prison.”
The long-held standard for domestic violence shelters has been to keep residents in hiding at undisclosed addresses. That model stems from the belief that secrecy keeps survivors safe from their abusers. But domestic violence shelter directors have said keeping their locations secret has gotten more complicated, and the practice can isolate residents.
Now, some shelters are moving into the open. This spring, the Bozeman nonprofit Haven finished construction of a campus minutes off a main road leading into town that replaced the green house. Sun-catching letters display the nonprofit’s name on the side of the nonprofit’s new building.
There’s space for a community garden, yoga classes, and a place for residents to host friends. It’s within walking distance of grocery stores and an elementary school, and it borders a city park that’s a go-to spot for people to take their dogs or to fish.
Erica Coyle, executive director of Haven, said the nonprofit’s old shelter had been a not-so-well-kept secret for years in the city of more than 54,000 people. “Our job isn’t to rescue a survivor and keep them hidden away,” Coyle said. “What we need to be doing overall, as communities and as a movement, is listening to survivors and when they say, ‘The isolation of staying in a shelter is a big barrier for me.'”
Similar changes are percolating across the nation. In recent years, , formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism.