Kansas City has just 6 domestic violence shelters. Here’s how they work together | Opinion

A woman takes one of the bravest acts she can when she decides to no longer submit to a beating or other violence from the person she thought she could trust: a husband, boyfriend or significant other.

When the time comes to choose safety over fear, she escapes (often with her children) and flees to one of the six shelters in the greater Kansas City area.

That’s right, I said six. And if, like me, you think that number is low for a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people, you are right. Many larger metros have even fewer facilities. But even six is not enough when you factor it into how many people need it.

“Thousands. No, we’re not exaggerating at all, thousands,” Corky McCaffrey says of the number of people they saw at Synergy Services in the Northland last year. More than 40,000 people used shelters in Missouri alone, according to domesticshelters.org. The Kansas City Police Department website reports responding to approximately 5,000 domestic violence calls a year — “That’s an average of almost 14 calls a day requesting help.”

Directors of shelters such as Synergy Services and Rose Brooks Center in central Kansas City know this. But did you know they are working together to do something about it?

Every day, the shelters use a central strategy to find beds for victims, help them get housing and educate the community.

One of the most urgent concerns is when a victim leaves the home and needs a place to stay – a problem, says McCaffrey, because there’s not enough shelter beds in the area. McCaffrey is Synergy Services’ community engagement coordinator. Last year, the shelter turned away 3,000 people. So, they ask other shelters for help.

“There’s just a dearth of shelter beds for domestic violence victims in the city. And so we do not view the other shelters as competition,” she said. “We actually view all of us as kind of sisters in arms against domestic violence issues. We do a lot of collaborating.”

Sara Brammer, vice president of domestic violence services for Synergy, said it goes beyond the beds. “We collaborate with the other shelters. We collaborate with court systems. We collaborate with all kinds of people in an effort to create a coordinated community response.”

Tanya Draper-Douthit, Chief Operating Officer at Rose Brooks Center, described actively collaborating with community agencies helps domestic violence agencies “to really focus on that goal of improving and enhancing survivor safety and improving offender accountability.”

Hope House’s assistance saved her live

What services look like can be different on a case-by-case difference, but for Elaine, a survivor who was helped by Hope House in Kansas City, it didn’t involve a bed.

Elaine is not her real name. She survived years of abuse before fleeing her then-husband. After reaching out to Hope House and other agencies, she received therapy, divorce court assistance and later, assistance in getting her children away from her abuser.

She said she was fortunate to be able to stay with her parents and never had to use a shelter bed, but believes that these agencies are critical in helping women have a future.

“I don’t know how anybody can make it through the system without that level of support and have their kids be protected and their family unit protected. I don’t know how they can, because I was very lucky,” Elaine told me.

She saw firsthand how collaboration between the shelter agencies saved a life — hers.

“There are different services provided at some of the different shelters and I think being able to talk with each other and saying, if you have this and we have this, why don’t we work together and just share what we can do to help the survivor and just give that person the best-case scenario?

“I did see that in my case. I think it should be that way for every single survivor. I mean, there’s no reason that shouldn’t happen.”

Elaine doesn’t know whether she or her children would be alive today without the agencies’ help.

“I don’t know if we would have been here. Honestly, the physical level of abuse was so high towards myself and what happened to the kids.”

Privacy, not big rooms of bunk beds

Reports on domestic violence shelters use words such as “clients” and “served,” but when victims of domestic abuse find safe haven, it’s not a vacation. It’s a chance to live and thrive. But it’s also not the end of their journey.

Draper-Douthit spoke on some of the other services Rose Brooks offers.

“Even when there might not be a shelter bed immediately available across that agency network, there are other services that we can get people connected into. Thinking about this from that collaboration lens, I think that we’re always looking at sustaining our community partnerships, but also looking at ways to expand them to meet the changing needs of our community.”

One changing need is what a family looks like. I’ve mostly referred to women, but “intimate partner violence” includes anyone, Draper-Douthit said.

“Services are open to anyone who is fleeing intimate partner violence. And so yes, it’s gender and identity inclusive.”

And because families sometimes have four-footed members, some shelters will take family pets. Shelter employees recognize the importance of animals because some people won’t leave an abusive home unless they can take their pet.

Rose Brooks Center created a program that works against domestic violence and pet abuse.

Draper-Douthit said the center works with Kansas City Animal Services and takes referrals for complaints of partner violence and pet safety concerns. “And then for people who are coming into our shelters, they can come with their pets and we have a pet advocacy manager that helps support them.”

Today’s shelters aren’t the stereotypical open gymnasiums filled with beds. They often have private rooms. Some have private bathrooms.

“The rooms are not set up in that kind of open encampment style that some folks might picture with bunk beds,” Draper-Douthit said. “We really wanted to make it as warm and welcoming as possible recognizing that it’s a trying time in somebody’s life when they’re needing to flee and come to the emergency shelter services. So we try to do whatever we can to make it feel welcoming and safe.”

Moms find success in employment, housing

What happens to survivors after they have to leave the shelter?

Programs vary, but at Synergy Services, most leave after four months. Brammer said she recognized that finding housing after leaving a shelter and still trying to avoid the abuser can be trying. Both Synergy, Rose Brooks and Hope House in Kansas City help people find housing after leaving.

Soon, there might be another option in the Northland.

Synergy is building an apartment complex near the shelter so that people can seamlessly transition into long-term housing and live there for up to two years.

Brammer said right now they are working with 100 clients in “scatter-site housing. But it’s hard to manage landlords and (find) apartments. So what we have to do is build apartments.”

They know from the scatter-site program that at the end of two years there is an 83% success rate for moms being able to stay in employment and find their own stable housing with their children.

In spring of 2026, Synergy plans to open Forest Hill Village, which will have 18 apartments and will house up to 110 people in the first phase. They’d like to double the capacity in the future.

McCaffrey said the apartments will be open to anyone who goes through their domestic violence education program.

Looking back on her own experience, Elaine is excited for survivors who can take advantage of how everything works together: the domestic violence shelter, therapy and classes, and then long-term housing.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for survivors,” she said. “It’s moving through all of those pieces and then having the wraparound services: case management, the therapy services, having utilities paid and having your housing right there. Everything that you could need all while saving up for when you’re done after those two years.

“I think my hope would be that that could be offered to every survivor.”

How to help

Financial donations are always welcome, and most shelters can use clothing, toiletries and items for children.

Synergy Services’ Amazon Wishlists

Rose Brooks Center’s needs

Hope House’s Amazon Registry and list of urgent needs