Shelter from the Storm: Trauma-Informed Care in Homelessness Services Settings

Abstract: It is reasonable to assume that individuals and families who are homeless have been exposed to trauma. Research has shown that individuals who are homeless are likely to have experienced some form of previous trauma; homelessness itself can be viewed as a traumatic experience; and being homeless increases the risk of further victimization and retraumatization. Historically, homeless service settings have provided care to traumatized people without directly acknowledging or addressing the impact of trauma. As the field advances, providers in homeless service settings are beginning to realize the opportunity that they have to not only respond to the immediate crisis of homelessness, but to also contribute to the longer-term healing of these individuals. Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) offers a framework for providing services to traumatized individuals within a variety of service settings, including homelessness service settings. Although many providers have an emerging awareness of the potential importance of TIC in homeless services, the meaning of TIC remains murky, and the mechanisms for systems change using this framework are poorly defined. This paper explores the evidence base for TIC within homelessness service settings, including a review of quantitative and qualitative studies and other supporting literature. The authors clarify the definition of Trauma-Informed Care, discuss what is known about TIC based on an extensive literature review, review case examples of programs implementing TIC, and discuss implications for practice, programming, policy, and research.

INTRODUCTION

Trauma-Informed Care: A Paradigm Shift for Homeless Services

“Homelessness deprives individuals of…basic needs, exposing them to risky, unpredictable environments. In short, homelessness is more than the absence of physical shelter, it is a stress-filled, dehumanizing, dangerous circumstance in which individuals are at high risk of being witness to or victims of a wide range of violent events”.

Homelessness is a traumatic experience. Individuals and families experiencing homelessness are under constant stress, unsure of whether they will be able to sleep in a safe environment or obtain a decent meal. They often lack a stable home and also the financial resources, life skills, and social supports to change their circumstances. In addition to the experience of being homeless, an overwhelming percentage of homeless individuals, families, and children have been exposed to additional forms of trauma, including: neglect, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse during childhood; community violence; combat-related trauma; domestic violence; accidents; and disasters. Trauma is widespread and affects people of every gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and background within homeless service settings.


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