Why consider Trauma-Informed approaches?

Families often enter the homeless service system with significant histories of trauma that impact their current functioning and needs. The connection between homelessness and trauma underscores the need for specific programming for these families. The following realities highlight the need for trauma-informed programming in organizations serving families who are homeless:

Homeless families have experienced traumatic stress. Most families experience multiple traumas prior to becoming homeless. Traumatic experiences include childhood abuse and neglect, family separations, violent relationships and witnessing domestic violence (Bassuk et al., 1996). In addition, the experience of being homeless is, in and of itself, traumatic (Goodman and Harvey, 1991).

Trauma impacts how people access services. People who have experienced on-going trauma may view the world and other people as unsafe. Those who have repeatedly been hurt by others may come to believe that people cannot be trusted. This lack of trust and a need to be constantly on-guard for danger makes it difficult for families to ask for help, trust providers, or form relationships.

Responses to traumatic stress are adaptive.  In the face of traumatic experiences, people learn to adapt to keep themselves safe. Responses to traumatic stress may include withdrawing from others, becoming aggressive, dissociating (“spacing out” or disconnecting from certain thoughts, feelings or memories associated with traumatic experiences), engaging in self-injurious behaviors such as cutting, or abusing substances in an effort to manage overwhelming feelings. 

While these behaviors may appear to be unhealthy or ineffective to providers, they should be understood as coping skills that were once useful in the past, and which can slowly be replaced with healthier alternatives.

Trauma survivors require specific, tailored interventions. Given the far-reaching impact of trauma and the adaptations survivors are forced to develop, they require responses and interventions not offered by traditional service systems. Healing for trauma survivors is not supported by “one size fits all” services that fail to consider trauma and its impact. How a program responds to the needs of families who have experienced trauma has a significant impact on their process of recovery (Guarino, et al., 2009, p. 18.)