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Essay: The new face of homelessness (Rochester, NY)

The Rochester-based Wilson Foundation has for more than 50 years dedicated itself to better understanding the plight of homeless families and the best ways to help them achieve residential stability. More recently, we partnered with the National Center on Family Homelessness to sponsor a study — dubbed “SHIFT” for Service and Housing Interventions for Families in Transition — examining the causes and impacts of family homelessness. We were amazed by the findings.

Looking at nearly 300 homeless families in four New York cities — Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany — we found that more than 90 percent of homeless mothers had experienced at least one trauma event in their lives. The severity of the symptoms associated with this trauma was, in fact, the greatest predictor of long-term residential instability. Not education, not employment, not demographics.

Making matters worse, the symptoms of trauma — which range from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol — have implications for the long-term emotional and physical well-being of children.

We thus came to the conclusion that for any type of re-housing program to be effective in the long-term, particularly in light of the spike in homeless families, it must include trauma-informed care.


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