Shelter in the Storm: A Battered Women’s Shelter and Catastrophe

August 2010 (VOL. 28, NO. 2)

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On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, causing devastation that would last a lifetime. Indeed, the communities along the Gulf Coast were dealt a critical blow. In the midst of this destruction, the only shelter for battered women in Orleans Parish was flooded and just days later, caught fire and burned to the ground. The director and staff evacuated all of the residents before hurricane landfall, yet returned almost immediately to navigate through the destruction and find ways to offer services to women living with intimate partner violence and also those living through the community-wide crisis of Hurricane Katrina. The storm, the flooding, and the damage would require the organization’s staff to think about how to create refuge and safety during and after a catastrophe. In this paper, we use in-depth interviews, document analysis and direct observation to document and analyze how Katrina’s devastation changed the direction, scope, and goals of New Orleans Shelter. The lessons New Orleans Shelter learned during this catastrophe may be useful for shelters in future disasters.