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Trauma and Homelessness Relationship Revealed

1 May 2014 at 11:43 am
Lina Caneva
A new study has found that trauma levels for the long-term homeless are far greater than the general Australian community.

Lina Caneva | 1 May 2014 at 11:43 am


Trauma and Homelessness Relationship Revealed
1 May 2014 at 11:43 am

A new study has found that trauma levels for the long-term homeless are far greater than the general Australian community.

The team behind the Trauma and Homelessness Initiative.

The study also identified a relationship between trauma exposure, mental health difficulties, social disadvantage and long-term homelessness to explain how some people get trapped in a cycle.

The Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health at the University of Melbourne conducted the study which was commissioned by four Melbourne-based agencies: Sacred Heart Mission, Mind Australia, Inner South Community Health and VincentCare Victoria.

Lead author of the Trauma and Homelessness Initiative, Associate Professor Meaghan O’Donnell says that only about 4 per cent of people in the general Australian community experience a traumatic event more than four times in their lives. But that figure was 97 per cent  for study participants.

“Indeed, the frequency of any given event was often described as happening too many times to count,” Prof O’Donnell said.

The study recruited 115 people who use services at the four agencies and found they had experienced an average of 21 traumatic events during their lives.

Among the shocking life events deemed as trauma were rape, sexual molestation, physical abuse, torture and natural disasters.

Of those who took part in the study:

?      37 per cent had experienced a fire, flood or natural disaster;

?      34 per cent  had experienced a life-threatening accident, 40 per cent had witnessed one;

?      24 per cent  had been raped after the age of 16;

?      17 per cent  had been molested after the age of 16;

?      66 per cent  had witnessed someone being killed or badly injured;

?      17 per cent had been tortured or were victims of terrorism.

During childhood:

?      23 per cent had experienced physical assault, 34 per cent had witnessed one;

?      24 per cent had been raped, 8 per cent had witnessed rape;

?      30 per cent had been sexually molested, 30 per cent witnessed it;

?      12 per cent had been tortured or were victims of terrorism, 17 per cent had witnessed it.

The report found that trauma was often identified as a precipitant to becoming homeless, and exposure to trauma escalated upon becoming homeless. Frequency of traumatic events increased significantly as participants continue to experience long periods of homelessness.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was the most frequently screened mental health disorder in the study, with 73 per cent of participants meeting the criteria for PTSD.

Researchers have produced a service framework for agencies that provide services to homeless people, advocating staff be trained to put awareness of the impact of trauma at the forefront of their care.

One of the agencies that commissioned the trauma study, Sacred Heart Mission says it has been taking this approach in a separate pilot program called Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI).

A three-year evaluation of the J2SI pilot is also being launched today, which shows it is possible to break the cycle of long-term homelessness.

Sacred Heart Mission CEO Cathy Humphrey said J2SI offered 40 people intensive support over three years, with a tailored program to address the underlying causes of their long-term homelessness.

“Almost all the J2SI program participants (87 per cent) had experienced childhood trauma in one form or another,” she said.

“After three years, the evidence confirms that given the right level of support, people can maintain their housing with more than double (85 per cent) the number of J2SI participants housed compared to those (41 per cent) who use the current service system.

“In addition, the evidence shows that the intensive support can also reduce demands on expensive health, justice and welfare services.”

However, the study has found that the deep effects of social exclusion are much harder to address.

Humphrey said that it was clear that the experience of long-term homelessness, including the exposure to traumatic events, impacts on people’s sense of safety and connection with people and their ability to develop and maintain social relationships.

“This means that the recovery can be a slow, complex and difficult journey,” she said.

“As a society it is critical that we address the trauma experienced by children to prevent their trajectory into adult homelessness, but also invest in programs to assist adults to recover from the emotional scars and a life time of deep and persistent disadvantage.

“This issue is really complex. The long-term homeless are struggling, and their situations will worsen if we don’t get a commitment from government to invest in programs that address the underlying causes of homelessness, rather than the current crisis orientated system that keeps people trapped in the cycle.”

The report can be downloaded here.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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