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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Find a Shelter in Indian Country

From StrongHearts Native Helpline

There is a severe resource gap (see current Resource Impact Summary) impacting the ability of tribes to address intimate partner violence in their communities. Presently, there are 259 Native-centered service providers that are culturally appropriate for Native Americans and Alaska Natives; and that includes only 62 shelters nationwide. In addition to the Native service provider database, through an invaluable partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, StrongHearts’ advocates have access to more than 3,500 non-Native service providers in the U.S. 

What You Should Know

Shelters prioritize clients based on the lethality of their situation. That is why it is important to share all of the lethality concerns in your situation. Consider the following: 

      Has the perpetrator increased physical or sexual violence?

      Is there a history of strangulation, or threats of suicide or homicide?

      Are you pregnant?

      Are there weapons in the home?

Overcoming Challenges

A shelter can be very overwhelming if you have not been in one before. It’s important to differentiate between shelter types. 

Avoid saying the word "homeless" when looking for shelter. When fleeing an abusive relationship, be careful not to say you are homeless. This could result in being referred to a homeless shelter instead of a domestic violence shelter. A shelter for unhoused people can be used in a pinch but if you are a survivor of domestic and sexual violence it’s best to seek assistance from an intimate partner violence service provider. They will be more informed on your situation and rights and will likely have other services available for you.

It’s important to be aware of who may work at the shelter for your tribe. Indian Country is small, and a relative or a friend of a family member may work at your tribal shelter. If you feel like there may be a conflict of interest or you feel unsafe, you may want to seek shelter on other tribal lands if they allow citizens of other Native Nations.

If you have no other options you may consider staying at a non-Native shelter. You can still receive other services from a Native provider. If you stay in a non-Native shelter, it may be a good idea to ask about using your traditional medicines. Some shelters may have rules about smudging or using traditional medicines/herbs inside or on-premises.

If you struggle with substance abuse, it may be difficult to avoid other users. Be aware that although the shelter may have rules around substance use on their campus, oftentimes these rules are ignored. It’s important to be aware that this may happen and find a system to help keep yourself in check may be part of your safety plan.

If you have livestock, farmlands or even ceremonial duties in your Native community, it may be difficult to reach out to a shelter because of your responsibilities. Be aware that although these are all important, your safety is also important and should be prioritized. It can be helpful to reach out to your trusted community network to get assistance to care for your livestock and farmland or make arrangements to get support from other community members to help with ceremonial duties.

You may need to seek help from more than one organization to get all of your needs met. Don’t be afraid to seek more than one resource. Depending on how comfortable you are with churches, they often offer programs to help with bill payments. You can also use and search by zip code to find local resources for assistance, food, health, housing and employment. Oftentimes depending on what's available, you can find various programs that offer grants to help you get back on your feet.

Native Parents and Children

Shelters offer little privacy for families. If you have children the best shelter type for you is a transitional housing facility. They are often long-term, which means you will not need to leave every night and they help set you up with permanent housing when you're ready to leave their program.

Don't be afraid to have a conversation with your children to make sure that they understand what is happening. They should have the space to have their feelings validated and understand that they are not at fault for what is happening. Talk to them about your ground rules. It can be challenging to a parent in a new environment with different rules and other families with varying values. Remember, our children are sacred beings and can help bring healing into our lives and our communities.

Native Men

Very few Native-centered shelters are able to house male victim-survivors though several do offer non-residential services for men. Sometimes a shelter may be able to help support a survivor with a hotel room, legal advocacy or counseling services and case management. It can vary from shelter to shelter so it’s always best to clarify what services they are able to offer men.

Native LGBTQ2S+

Within the 2S+/LGBTQ+ community, intimate partner violence occurs at a rate equal to or higher than that of the cis-heterosexual community. Additionally, they may have concerns about being outed, not having inclusive restroom facilities, not being addressed with the correct pronouns and facing bias from other residents and staff members may prevent them from seeking a placement in a shelter. If you identify as a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community and are seeking shelter, here are a few questions to consider asking:

      Ask questions about sleeping arrangements, restrooms and privacy so you know what to expect

      Ask if there are any additional accommodations for your identity

      Ask if the staff has training in working with the LGBTQ2S+ community

      Ask about the safety and complaint procedures

If you experience bias or feel unsafe in the shelter, notify staff immediately and file a complaint.

Shelter Tips

Choosing to seek a shelter may be a part of your individual safety plan. Be aware that sometimes shelters are not immediately available and your safety plan should include some additional options while going through the process. Shelters can be overcrowded and Native-centered shelters may take some time to get into for families. 

Important things to consider when seeking a shelter: 

      It can take a while (and a lot of calls) to find shelter space.

      If there is an emergency shelter directory in your area, our advocates may suggest contacting them directly to help you find a vacancy. These directories maintain current information on all of the shelter vacancies in their area so calling them can be easier than calling each place individually.

      Despite the potential for uncertainty, be respectful of shelter advocates during the intake process. They only want to help you. Speaking to a StrongHearts advocate before calling the domestic violence program may help you navigate some of the challenges.  

      Remember that some shelters won't serve people who live out of the county, or out of state. If you desire to relocate to a different county or state, some shelters require a referral from the local shelter. Call the out-of-county/state program to learn more about the policies for accepting survivors.  

      Call the shelter two to three times a day to check for space. Bed availability changes very quickly every day and many times it is given out on a first come, first served basis. Ask the shelter worker to recommend the best time to make a return call.

      In the event that the shelter becomes undesirable, refrain from talking badly about it when speaking with a new shelter.  

      If the shelter is full, shelter workers may be able to provide motel vouchers or know about alternative options at other nearby shelters.

Multiple needs require multiple programs which take time and considerable effort on the part of an advocate, please be as patient as possible. Our advocates are working hard to keep you safe.

Staying in A Shelter

Every shelter is different so get clarification on rules beforehand so there are no surprises. Some may have different rules on cell phone use and curfews.

Discrimination and/or mistreatment by shelter staff is not okay and there may be a way to address a grievance through proper channels. Contact the state domestic violence program to ask if there is a way to address the issue or file a complaint.

Avoid the drama. It’s good to find support if you can but recognize this is only temporary and sometimes it’s best to keep your head down and get the services you need. It’s hard living in a place with so many varying perspectives so be aware there may be conflicts among your new neighbors. 


Stress can greatly impact your health so it is important to consider self-care. Participating in self-care activities like exercise (if safe to do so), eating healthily, counseling and journaling could be helpful. Be gentle with yourself mentally and physically. Connecting with your cultural pregnancy practices during this time can be uplifting. Also, you can practice resilience by smudging, praying or sitting with your traditional medicines.

StrongHearts Native Helpline

If you consider leaving an abusive partner, StrongHearts Native Helpline can help you with safety planning and finding a Native-centered shelter.

StrongHearts Native Helpline is a 24/7 culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential and free service dedicated to serving Native survivors, concerned family members and friends affected by domestic, dating and sexual violence available by calling or texting 1-844-762-8483 or clicking on the chat icon on

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