Studies on the overall effectiveness of shelters often include a single or limited number of facilities and often have high attrition rates (or women who leave the study before its completion). This is expected given the various transitions women often face during their shelter stay. Although these studies provide important contributions to the understanding on shelters in general, findings based on very small samples and which have other methodological concerns are generally difficult to generalize more broadly, especially given the local variation in capacity, programming and service features (Giles-Sims, 1983; Berk et al., 1986; Sedlak, 1988; Cannon and Sparks, 1989; McNamara et al., 1997; McNamara et al., 2008; Tutty et al., 1999; Garza, 2002; Abitbol-Devine, 2003; Lyon, et al., 2008).
Large non-comparative studies from the United States, Ireland and Scotland highlight that women’s experiences in shelters can contribute to increased feelings of hope about the future, greater self-confidence in their own decision-making, comfort asking for help, talking about their concerns, and knowledge about their options and community resources. The experience can also help women to feel more positive about their ability to achieve goals for themselves, take actions on their own and plan for their safety. These findings were particularly associated with women who had been in the shelter for longer periods of time (average stay was 22 days, with accommodation available for up to one year), although all women reported general satisfaction with shelter services in meeting their needs. See the resources developed for the study (Lyon et al., 2008).
Studies indicate the potential for improving women’s mental health, life quality, self-esteem, coping, empowerment, and in some cases, outcomes related to depression and trauma symptoms. There is also potential to improve women’s safety planning and knowledge of community resources. It should be noted that some larger studies associate the potential of shelters contributing to tangible improvements in outcomes with the woman’s stage in the decision-making process regarding the relationship and her readiness to end it (Bennett et al., 2004; Berk et al, 1986; Campbell et al., 1995; Garza, 2002; Lyon et al., 2008; McNamara et al., 1997; McNamara et al., 2008; Tutty et al., 2006).