“She gives me the confidence to thrive.” The impact of understanding trauma within homelessness services.
Blog posted by: Nye Jones Thursday, 21 April 2022.
Homelessness and trauma often go hand in hand. But many services don’t fully understand trauma’s impact on people. Through shining a spotlight on two members, we explore what can be achieved through embedding a trauma informed approach.
When Fami* moved to England to join her husband, a successful businessman, she was hopeful of more opportunities for her and her children than she had in her native Pakistan. But, over a number of years, her husband was both verbally and violently abusive towards her. She was desperate to leave him but had no recourse to public funds. Eventually, after her husband made an attempt on her life, she sought support through her local council, with the local authority moving her and her children to a women’s refuge in Bournemouth.
Homelessness can come in different forms and for different reasons, but one factor that is common through many stories is an experience of trauma. Jo Prestidge is Head of National Practice Development at Homeless Link. She describes how people who have experienced trauma are more likely to experience overwhelming emotions and have difficulties controlling fear and anger. “Because of the physiological effects of trauma on the nervous system.” She says. “It can lead people to struggle with building and sustaining stable relationships due to the breaches of trust which often define it, leaving people with feelings of shame and low self-esteem.”
It’s therefore no wonder that people who experience homelessness are far more likely to struggle with their mental health, with 86% of respondents to Homeless Link’s Health Need Audit reporting to have a mental health need.
But, despite the correlation between trauma and homelessness, many services don’t fully understand its impact on people. For Fami, the domestic abuse she experienced manifested into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It also left her with physical injuries including dizziness and problems with her ears. At this time, Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA) who support Fami were starting to think about embedding trauma informed care across all their services, but they were still early in this process.
Fami was initially placed in a top floor flat, sharing with a woman with an alcohol dependency. As a practicing Muslim, coupled with her physical injuries, Fami describes this as “hell.” But, through a trauma informed approach, BCHA were able to move Fami to a self-contained flat on the ground floor, providing more accessibility to the garden area and private space.
Caroline Moylan is the Director of Homelessness Health & Wellbeing at BCHA. “People who’ve experienced a range of traumas have often been let down by systems.” She says. “But those experiences don’t define them, we decided we wanted our work to be about people seeing a positive future for themselves.” She describes how before the organisational wide strategy there were “pockets of good practice, however our vision was for this to be at the heart of everything we do.”
Prestidge describes trauma informed care as “an approach which can be adopted by organisations in order to improve awareness of trauma and its impact, to ensure that services provide effective support and don’t re-traumatise people.”
BCHA partnered with Homeless Link (through its Trauma Informed training package) to introduce this approach, training all staff in the impact of trauma on people’s lives. They have also been embedding reflective practice (where staff are given opportunity to reflect on situations that have occurred and the way their actions contributed to what happened) in supervisions, meetings and forums. Another important element is empowering people to understand their potential and take control of their futures, so BCHA harnessed a strength-based approach, focusing on working alongside people around want they want to achieve.
BCHA have also made improvements to the physical environments within the services to create spaces that enable psychological safety. This change is particularly apparent in the Refuge in which Fami lives. Support Worker Anna Mclaughlin describes how the women who live here “have uprooted their lives, so the pull to go back to abusive partners can be strong. That’s why the environment needs to feel welcoming straight away.”
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