Study presents snapshot of domestic violence shelter services

Unique partnership of architects and domestic violence advocates brings new strategies for emergency housing.

May 08, 2012 |

Survey results released by the National Network to End Domestic Violence revealed that on one single day, 1,080 victims of domestic violence were in emergency or transitional housing provided by a domestic violence program in Washington State. On that same day, the number was 36,332 for victims across the country. The study reported that safe housing was the service most requested by victims calling these programs.

Recognizing the critical, life-saving services domestic violence programs provide, architects at Mahlum (a Pacific Northwest architecture firm) recently partnered with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). Advocates and architects worked together to identify how emergency shelters can be designed to best meet the needs of victims and their children. Today, the two organizations jointly launched Building Dignity: Design Strategies for Domestic Violence Shelter, a new web-based tool- kit for improving shelter spaces. The design strategies range from how to redecorate an existing space to building a shelter from the ground up.

“It is critical for domestic violence shelters to provide residents with physical safety,” said Margaret Hobart, WSCADV staff lead on the project. “But that is only one component of healing from abuse. Domestic violence programs also support survivors in reclaiming their independence, focusing on their relationships with their children, and reconnecting with supports to end isolation imposed by the abuser.” Building design can actually help achieve these goals, and this is where the architecture firm played a key role.

1Mahlum, as a participant in The 1%? a program of Public Architecture that connects nonprofits with architecture firms willing to do pro bono work?donated their time to join WSCADV’s efforts. They pored through information from interviews and focus groups with shelter residents of all ages and identified the design implications and strategies.

Some of the key themes that emerged were around the need for security, privacy, and quiet spaces where survivors can heal and parents can connect with their children. “Design strategies that support shelter residents simply have not been considered by design professionals in a systematic way?we envision Building Dignity as a valuable tool for any shelter seeking to make a positive change,” said Corrie Rosen, who is leading the effort at Mahlum.

The partnership between WSCADV and Mahlum has local roots in Washington State, but the design strategies developed have relevance for domestic violence programs across the country. “We hope this effort helps domestic violence programs in their ongoing efforts to create spaces that best support their agency’s work, values, and mission,” said Nan Stoops, executive director of WSCADV. To learn more, please visit +

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