Survivors Surviving The Shelter System

Samantha Inesta
Executive Director

One of the first resources that any woman or young woman coming out of a situation of trafficking, domestic violence, exploitation and abuse is shelter. It is a basic need and one that is sometimes scarce to find. In New York City there is a shortage of beds for women and young women who have escaped these type of situations. These women range from age to race to ethnicity. Most of them are young women of color who are put into the shelter system with other women who are not of color but may be of ethnicity other than American. This has posed a problem with housing all these women and girls together who see each other as a threat or less than because they are different. In the midst of this there are different forms of intimidation and harassment by survivors who see girls of color differently.

Every house that is set up as a shelter for survivors has a house manager, this manager is usually not a woman of color. Normally that shouldn’t be a problem but if there is no cultural sensitivity by the house manager, it causes a huge disparity in how these cases of intimidation and harassment are handled. Women of color experience higher levels of trauma that leads to severe PTSD accompanied with a variety of triggering actions and words. When they are placed in a house that is constantly triggering them while forcing them to be in a constant state of stress and no one will listen or help them-not even the house manager, they will act out for their own protection. When this happens they are considered dangerous to everyone in the house, including themselves and as a result the police is called with the intent to have them arrested and removed from the house. All of this because no one wanted to listen or understand or even believe them just because their skin is darker than the other women. They are looked at as difficult as being the instigator and violent. This is a tactic by many shelters to make these women seem like liars.

This is a growing trend, especially in such a diverse city like New York. So called religious organizations are the biggest culprits. They claim to want to help all women everywhere but when it comes to women of color, they fall short and are more destructive to them and their situation. It doesn’t stop there. City agencies and government entities add salt to the wound by disbelieving these survivors and siding with the organization due the political power they may hold or their enormity and size of donations they may receive from politicians and local and state entities. These women are left with no one to turn to and either stay in the house and continue to be harassed and triggered or they leave back into the streets to be re-victimized. This is an issue that needs more exposure, it’s one of the key factors why these girls are always in the shelter system never to move on and be self sustainable.

I have heard quite a few stories from young women of color that they are treated “differently” because they are not like the white skinned girls from another country or state. They have suffered just as must, experience the same type of trauma and yet they are looked at as trouble makers who just want to be in the system. Where is the trauma informed help that they were promised? Why does the case worker they were assigned to by the shelter not do anything to protect her? These are questions that I have yet to get answers for. One thing I do know is that if you are running a shelter for all women irregardless of the color of their skin or their culture, you should run it with dignity and respect for all of them, not like some cliquish sorority house where “Mean Girls” run it. Eventually this will catch up to you and communities will start to talk and distance themselves from your shelter as a resource for survivors they work with.

Unfortunately none of these organizations are all that worried. Their pockets and bank accounts are lined pretty well with funding from professionals, politicians and local and state governments. In their mind it doesn’t matter if they have 1 or 20 women in their shelter, as long as they can find way to manipulate a grant or proposal to show they’ve helped a lot of women, they money will continue to flow. There are cases filed against organizations such as these that never get resolved because of the reach these people have to cover it up. Women and girls of color have had to survive so much and came out in need of a lot. After all of this they shouldn’t have to survive the shelter system.

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Women And Revolution is a blog designed to raise the issues that are affecting women all over the world while giving it journalistic value. W.A.R is a division of BeaSister2aSister a 501(c)3 non profit that helps survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, exploitation and abuse break the cycle of inter-dependency and become self sustainable. if you would like to earn more you can visit our website at or you can email us at If you are interested in seeing women and girls everywhere break free from inter-dependency, please consider donating online as a one time or sustainable donor. We are committed to seeing every woman walk in total freedom.


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