Physical Environment

little boy on swingFamilies experiencing domestic violence may spend between one week and three months in emergency shelters before moving to transitional or permanent housing.  Most domestic violence programs offer safe emergency housing for women and families in immediate danger and seek to empower all survivors to reclaim a non-violent, stable family life.  However, providing a facility that offers safety to multiple families with varied needs, while also supporting each individual’s healing process is extremely challenging.

By asking families about their favorite and least favorite shelter spaces, programs can examine their shelter environment and its impact on families.  Based on this feedback, programs can initiate positive environmental shifts that range from small and immediate to longer term strategies.  For instance, taking signs down, rearranging furniture to make supervision of children easier for mothers, or finding cozy chairs to place in quiet spaces are changes that programs can make immediately.  Programs that have resources to redesign their physical space can look at comprehensive changes that create both private and communal spaces for families that are empowering and enhance healing.

At a minimum, programs are beginning to think beyond the status quo toward creating environments that:

  • Empower families to make their own decisions and reclaim their autonomy and dignity
  • Create a sense of security with clearly defined boundaries between the shelter and surrounding community
  • Support families to reconnect with others and break the isolation of abuse
  • Create spaces that make parenting less stressful and that support opportunities to play, strengthen family relationships and easily supervise children
  • Create spaces specifically for teens
  • Minimize the need for rules and the possibility of conflict

This information was adapted with permission from information developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Building Dignity project explores design strategies for domestic violence emergency housing. Thoughtful design dignifies survivors by meeting their needs for self-determination, security, and connection. The ideas on the Building Dignity website reflect a commitment to creating welcoming, accessible environments that help to empower survivors and their children. Building dignity is the essence of advocacy.