Louisa Johnston, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, The People Concern
We often hear misguided assumptions about the causal relationship between physical and mental wellbeing and one’s housing status.
Too frequently, the role trauma plays is absent from that conversation.
Living without secure shelter comes with an incredible amount of inherent risk. You must worry about where your next meal will come from, where you will store your possessions (including any medications), and where you will lay down to safely sleep. You may be robbed. You may be harassed. You may be assaulted. Instability becomes the norm. This constant state of flux and exposure to risk, in conjunction with the social stigma surrounding homelessness, will affect your mental wellbeing regardless of your condition when you first lost your place to live.
Prolonged exposure to elevated stress hormones as a result of homelessness is likely to trigger mental health issues or compound existing ones. Without access to mental health care, these issues will only become more deeply entrenched in your neurological pathways. You may choose to self-medicate to relieve your psychological pain, which will only exacerbate the underlying issues. Trauma, especially chronic trauma, takes a dramatic toll on your body.
This is in addition to trauma that may have led to homelessness in the first place, including situations of abusive environments and domestic violence.
At The People Concern, we are firm believers in trauma-informed care and require that all staff are trained to consider the role of lived experience in their work. We recognize that behavior cannot simply be categorized into “good” and “bad,” but that people in actively unsafe situations may make unsafe choices to protect themselves in that moment. Instead of asking the people we serve “what’s wrong with you?” we ask “what happened to you?” You must understand someone’s context in order to help.
As such, The People Concern takes a comprehensive, integrated approach to both physical and mental wellness. We offer a wide array of programs to fit the needs of each unique individual. Options include individual and group therapy, psychiatric care, art therapy, exercise classes, and nutrition education. Individuals are empowered to choose which programs they believe would be best suited to help them begin to heal.
In this way, the people we serve are given a safe, stable place to integrate their experiences into their self-narrative removed from the shame of the social stigma surrounding their housing status. There are some in our community who believe that only people who have already worked through their trauma “deserve” housing. At The People Concern, we believe that stable housing is the only way people will feel safe enough to lay down the burdens of their trauma and begin the process of unpacking it. We believe that everyone should, and deserves to be, housed, healthy and safe.