How to Open a Domestic Violence Shelter for Abuse Victims

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If you want to know how to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims this is the article to read. It has concrete information from someone in the domestic abuse field.

Shelters provide emergency housing for free to victims of domestic violence. The nonprofit agency I founded looked into this a few years ago. Kudos to you for asking how to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims.

Information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline is sobering. Every year thousands of women are forced to flee from their homes in search of refuge. Making the situation even more tragic is the number of children who are involved. Yet, many areas do not have a program in place to help.


Finding out how to open a domestic violence shelter is easy. Keeping it open is not. You will need a rock solid team of volunteers to help you. It doesn’t have to be a large team. They just have to be dependable.


Take a good look at your community. Find out if you already have a shelter for abuse victims, where it is and what agency is running it. If there isn’t one, you’ll need to meet with local leaders to find out why. This may help you gain support. It also tells you what you are up against whether it is funding or other reasons.

You will need to network with other agencies to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims in your community. These can help provide clothing, food boxes, personal items and even toys for clients.

You will also need to be in conversation with your state coalition against domestic violence. Search online for their contact information. They can educate you about the laws regarding opening a domestic violence shelter in your state, provide training and help you locate funding sources.

Agencies and entities to consult with include:

State coalition

Local police and sheriff’s departments

Legal Aid

United Way

Food pantries

Soup kitchens

Clothing closet

Existing homeless shelters in your community (if any)

Local animal shelter

Elected officials

Church sponsored agencies

The quicker route

When considering how to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims the quickest route is to partner with an existing 501c3 nonprofit. These will already have a board of directors and possibly staff in place.

A potential partner agency will also be familiar with the state laws regarding paperwork and the annual filing of required IRS documents. (Just because your domestic violence shelter won’t pay taxes doesn’t mean that you don’t have to file with the IRS annually.)

Before partnering, you will want to double check to be absolutely certain that an agency is in compliance. A missed filing because someone thought someone else would do it is all it takes. Call the office for your Secretary of State and search the IRS website to confirm.

The long and winding road:

Helping victims of abuse can be a very difficult process that requires almost constant fundraising. There may not be a local program that wants to learn how to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims.

If this is the case then your goal just got harder. You will need to form a nonprofit corporation in your state, write by-laws, form a board and get a charter – for starters. Then you will need to apply for nonprofit 501c3 status from the IRS. This gives you protection from paying taxes and makes donations tax-deductible.

This is where the need for the circle of help just expanded. If you have people helping you who are experienced in successfully setting up a charity it won’t be absolutely necessary to hire an attorney or an accountant.

However, if you don’t have someone with this expertise you will need to hire pros and they don’t come cheap. You will also need someone who can construct a business plan and write proposals.

When to begin fundraising for a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims:

Your fundraising efforts will probably begin before your organization is fully chartered. When you look into how to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims there are lots of fees involved.

You will pay state and local filing and pay the Internal Revenue Service. You’ll also need to pay any professionals that you hire. Filing fees to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims vary by locality.

A general rule of thumb is that you’ll need $1000 - $2,000 for the paperwork. Contact your local business license office, Secretary of State and the IRS. Any local fees, building permits or variance costs will increase the amount of fundraising that needs to be done.

Other costs involved:

When you look at how to open a domestic violence shelter you must include fundraising for everything you need in your own home but on a larger scale. Costs include rent, phone, utilities, internet, rainy day fund, and food for the residents, liability insurance, staff, and the alarm system.

Expect to show proof of funding for the first 3 years of shelter operations before signing a lease agreement or breaking ground. Landlords, coalitions, utility companies and potential funders will want to see your plan and sources of income.

A word about grants:

You may want to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims but don’t expect the grants to start flowing your way the minute the IRS approves your 501c3 status. To receive any grant (large ones especially) you must be able to show a proven track record and you must have built up a relationship with the potential donor.

Grant applications for $1,000 or less are usually pretty straightforward. Applications for larger amounts or federal applications can be very complex. It may be useful to talk with a professional fundraiser for help with grantwriting and fundraising consultation.


The answer to how to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims is complex. It is a challenge that is not to be taken lightly. The road is fraught with difficultly. There are days that make you shake your head. More often, there are days when you’ll pump your hands in the air and shout “Yes!”.

It is those hand pumping high-five days that make the question “How to open a domestic violence shelter for abuse victims?” worth every minute of paperwork and funding obstacles.


lucia anna
Posted on Jan 30, 2011
Jessie Agudo
Posted on Dec 11, 2010
Gayle Crabtree
Posted on Nov 30, 2010
Christine Gapuz
Posted on Nov 30, 2010