Realizing Access: Training for Homeless and Domestic Violence Shelters and Services on Trauma, Fair Housing and Civil Rights Compliance

The over-representation of people with mental illnesses and disabilities among homeless populations is well-documented.[1] Homelessness contributes to incarceration, deteriorating mental health, and premature death of people with mental disabilities, and disproportionately for people of color.[2] Accessing shelters and homeless services is a vital point of intervention, and can determine whether a person with mental illness will receive therapeutic resources, and secure a pathway to permanent housing.[3] However, homeless people can experience various barriers and obstacles to securing services, in residential and non-residential settings. These barriers include intentional and unintentional forms of discrimination – based on disability, as well as race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, age, religion, nationality and ethnicity.[4] For people with mental illnesses and disabilities, a failure by service providers to comprehend trauma, vulnerability or the impact of mental health on communication and social interaction can also constitute a powerful obstacle to accessing services. 

Domestic violence survivors often rely on transitional shelter and other homeless services to help secure safety. As a consequence of exposure to severe and violent sources of trauma, survivors universally deal with mental health consequences, commonly including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.[5] Re-traumatization of domestic violence survivors who attempt to access social services can be psychologically devastating, and practically dangerous in increasing the likelihood that survivors will not be able to successfully escape and stay free of dangerous relationships.[6] 

This program will offer free and low-cost training opportunities to homeless and domestic violence service workers regarding their legal obligations under federal and state civil rights instruments, in residential and non-residential settings providing homeless and domestic violence services. Training resources also introduce a “trauma-informed” service ethic, meaning that curriculum prioritizes the experiences of traumatized people as a central site of expertise, and encourages comprehension of the relationship between trauma and mental health and illness. Curriculum for this project is grounded is driven by stakeholder feedback from multiple anti-violence, homeless service, and civil rights organizations. Trauma Informed LA, a multi-disciplinary team of service providers, will provide clinicians to assist Repair in delivery of training on mental health and service accessibility.`

In addition to direct provision of training, the project incorporates quantitative and qualitative empirical assessment of shelter and service programs, including pre- and post-testing of staff perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes proximate to receipt of training. The research and assessment component of the project is expected to both inform successive training, and generate several publications related to programmatic design, effective trauma informed interventions, and prospects for improving legal compliance and ethics in homeless service delivery.



[1] See e.g. Seena Fazel, Vivek Khosla, Helen Doll, and John Geddes, “The Prevalence of Mental Disorders Among the Homeless in Western Countries: Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis”, PLOS Medicine, 12/2/2008, available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050225&type=printable

[2] 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Part 1, National Alliance to End Homelessness

[3] Alvin S. Mares & Robert A. Rosenheck, “HUD/HHS/VA Collaborative Initiative to Help End Chronic Homelessness National Performance Outcomes Assessment”, 2/26/2007, available at: https://files.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/CICH_ClientOutcomesReport.pdf

[4] Melissa Johnstone et al, “Discrimination and Well-Being Among the Homeless: the Role of Multiple Group Membership”, Frontiers in Psychology, 6, p. 739 (2015), available at: https://files.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/CICH_ClientOutcomesReport.pdf; National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, “Violations of the Human Rights of Persons Experiencing Homelessness in the United States”, 10/16/2017, available at: https://nlchp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/sr-ep-2017.pdf

[5] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Responding to the Psychological Consequences of Terrorism, “Understanding the Psychological Consequences of Traumatic Events, Disasters and Terrorism”, in Preparing for the Psychological Consequences of Terrorism: A Public Health Strategy, National Academies Press, Chapter 2. (2003); Alexander C. Macfarlane, “The long-term costs of traumatic stress: intertwined physical and psychological consequences”, World Psychiatry, 9(1), p.3. (2010), available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2816923/

[6] National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health, “Trauma-Informed Domestic Violence Services: Understanding the Framework and Approach”, available at: https://vawnet.org/sc/trauma-informed-domestic-violence-services-understanding-framework-and-approach-part-1-3; Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA), “How to Avoid Re-Traumatizing the People We Serve”, available at: https://andvsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/10p-How-to-avoid-retraumatizing-the-people-we-serve.pdf