Equitable Rules in Shelter

Rules provide structure, guiding us on how to live within society. They are meant to act as a gravitational force to keep things spinning and orbiting the way they need to. In a communal space, rules can ensure responsibilities are equally divided, making it easier for the community within the space to function well. However, excessive rules in shelters can lead to the re-traumatization of victim-survivors. In “How the Earth Didn’t Fly Into the Sun,” the Missouri Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence explores the connection between power-based violence and how shelters look at and enforce rules.


It is critical to take an equitable, trauma-informed approach when enforcing rules. In considering how to do this, we are reminded of the differences between equality and equity. Whereas equality means enforcing the rules equally on all, equity offers the context that all humans deserve. Equity in shelter recognizes that not all tenants are coming in from the same place and acknowledges the need to make adjustments.


It is important for victim-survivors to regain control of their own lives. Rules imposed by advocates stand as a barrier to this important healing.  Instead of recreating abusive patterns, advocates can work in partnership with victim-survivors to identify optional routines that work for them and their families, balancing the power of choice with structure.


At the heart of equity is empathy. What happens when we take a step back and put ourselves in the shoes of these victim-survivors? If we are honest with ourselves, can we follow the same rules we demand of shelter residents? There isn’t a mother in this world who is able to have eyes on their children at all times. After all, even mothers need to shower.  Likewise, complete sobriety is an unrealistic expectation that keeps many in danger when their substance use is unlikely to compromise shelter community safety.


There is healing in empathy. In equity. In building a community where survivors can show up as their authentic, imperfect selves and have the freedom to be human.


Naomi Thompson

Communications Coordinator





Missouri Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. (2020, July 14). How the Earth didn’t fly into the sun. NNEDV. https://nnedv.org/resources-library/h_earth-didnt-fly-sun/