NYC Department of Social Services

Shelter from Harm

How could we address the needs of perpetrators of violence in the shelter system through new policies, programs, and tools?

Partners and Funders

The Project

Typically, anti-violence programs focus on victims of abuse, assuming that those who commit violence cannot change. While this strategy rightly directs resources to those who have experienced trauma and abuse, it does nothing to stop those who have caused harm from engaging in intimate partner violence again. By creating interventions for individuals who cause harm, the City can tackle the cycle of violence from both the angle of the perpetrator and of the survivor. This holistic approach may help to decrease domestic violence in New York City.

Currently, the City’s single-adult shelters have no programs that seek to ensure that those who commit intimate partner violence will avoid future violent behavior. The NYC Department of Social Services’ Office of Domestic Violence (ODV) and the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) believe, however, that there may be opportunities to provide effective interventions targeting those who cause harm. In this project, PPL collaborated with ODV and DHS to explore what trauma-informed interventions could reduce intimate-partner violence and increase wellbeing in shelter.


Building on research conducted with shelter staff, subject-matter experts, and ODV and DHS leadership, we created a research report with expert assessments and literature scans of abusive partner interventions, developed design concepts based on the insights collected from secondary research and fieldwork, and designed a visualization that mapped the end-to-end service journey experience for individuals inside homeless shelters – both survivors of domestic violence and the perpetrators of violence themselves.

Phase one of Shelter from Harm was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). A proposal for continued funding is being considered by the NEA. Phase two would focus on designing a violence assessment tool and associated programming for the shelter context.

what we DESIGNED

The Shelter from Harm journey map draws on research with policymakers, frontline staff, and subject-matter experts to depict the journey of a NYC homeless shelter client who must leave a family shelter due to an incident of intimate partner violence. Mapped along the journey are client and staff actions, tools and platforms that clients and staff use as they go through the actions, bright spots and pain points, and need statements that engage both client and staff perspectives.


Along with this journey map, we also identified three key statements that guided our design and prototyping:

  1. Interventions specifically targeting perpetrators are unlikely to be feasible, due to the population’s transience, their low self-identification as perpetrators, and difficulty to track.
  2. Interventions should address pervasive effects of violence on all participants in the shelter system, including staff and clients (as both victims and perpetrators).
  3. Interventions must incorporate best practices for trauma-informed service provision.

Given these three insights, we developed recommendations for interventions that addressed frontline staff and client needs.

Project Team

Natalia Radywyl headshot
Natalia Radywyl
Carly Simmons headshot
Carly Simmons
Natalie Sims headshot
Natalie Sims