Improving Services for Homeless Families

Bridges to Housing continues to serve homeless families throughout the Portland metropolitan area.  Neighborhood Partnerships is pleased to report on an exciting offshoot of this innovative program.

Bridges to Housing included a substantial evaluation component, conducted by Portland State University’s Regional Research Institute.  Their latest evaluation report highlighted the impact of trauma on families in the program.  As PSU processed those findings with partners in the community, the group identified a promising area of practice and is now doing additional work in the community around trauma and homelessness.

National research indicates that most of us at some point have experienced a traumatic event—the death of a loved one, a car accident, divorce, violence, or other traumatic events. For homeless families or individuals, living on the street or in homeless shelters increases the likelihood of numerous traumatic incidents. Exposure to violence—either on the street or in an intimate relationship, cycles of housing instability, substance abuse and other problems are more prevalent among homeless families, and these events can become cycles of violence and trauma.

All too often, the residual impacts of this trauma, which might include an inability to form trusting relationships, to maintain appropriate boundaries and relationships, and seeking to regain power or control, can hinder a person’s ability to interact within our service systems. Families or people seeking services with histories of trauma can often be labeled as paranoid or non-compliant.

New research in the field has led to strategies and program design methods called “trauma informed services.” These methods and strategies seek to understand the trauma families have experienced, and to improve services within these five areas: safety of clients; trustworthiness; choice over services; collaboration with program staff and sharing control with families seeking services; and empowering people seeking services.

Now, the Regional Research Institute is partnering with two local agencies—Impact Northwest and Catholic Charities—to test how trauma informed services might be effective within a housing complex. This work will include assessments of the participating organization related to how well they already provide trauma informed services, and a support-group model for women who have histories of significant trauma. While Bridges to Housing families will not necessarily be directly impacted through this work, we are confident that both Bridges to Housing and the larger housing plus services system in Portland will benefit from this work.

We believe that this important work by the Regional Research Institute and its partners will mean that families can be served more effectively and efficiently, and will have better outcomes. We hope it will also mean that these families will also begin to heal from past trauma and therefore have a better future for themselves and their children. We here at Neighborhood Partnerships offer our congratulations and good wishes to the Regional Research Institute, Impact Northwest and Catholic Charities as they embark on this important work.