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Domestic Violence Shelters No Longer So Hidden

The 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. However, 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, CBS News reports. This spring, the Bozeman, Mont., nonprofit Haven finished construction of a campus minutes off a main road leading into town. There's space for a community garden, yoga classes, and a place for residents to host friends. Erica Coyle, executive director of Haven, said the nonprofit's old shelter had been a not-so-well-kept secret for years, where some residents struggled with feeling trapped and isolated. "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. Gina Boesdorfer, executive director of the Friendship Center in Helena, said hidden sites force survivors into hiding instead of supporting people in their communities and regular routines. "It really highlights a lack of other supports and resources in a community," Boesdorfer said. "That still places the burden on the victim rather than placing the burden on the offender." The earliest havens arose when women took other women into their homes. Starting in the 1970s, shelters were built on the assumption that secrecy is safest. But as shelters grew to serve more people, staying hidden became less practical as more survivors work and have kids who attend school in addition to the challenge of technological advances like phone GPS tracking. The updated shelter in Bozeman has two buildings on its new campus that offer residents the opportunity to socialize without secrecy or fear. The first building is a resource hub with employee offices, services for clients, and space for community events. Cameras attached to a security system can flag license plates registered to known abusers, and every visitor is screened before being buzzed in. Haven's housing, a short walk from the main hub, is still off-limits to anyone but staff members and residents to keep that space private. Survivors can choose when and if they want to interact through events hosted next door.


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