One amazing thing that we have seen during this pandemic is how our community has come together to help each other. Many people who were homeless, or facing homelessness, have been able to secure or maintain housing as a direct result of the “come-togetherness” of our community. However, this does not mean all their problems have been solved. We must ensure that during times of crisis, such as the current pandemic, we support the wellbeing of the individuals we serve as best we can. One of the priorities should be avoiding the possibility of re-traumatization.
So how can we ensure that we are not causing more unnecessary trauma, while also not putting individuals who have previously experienced trauma in potentially triggering situations?
It comes down to the Four C’s of Support: Calm, Choice, Control and Connect.
Even though, in many ways, the current pandemic has caused our community to slow down, emotions are often in hyper drive. Especially for people dealing with one crisis after another.
Many people in our community are constantly worried about when they can go back to work, how they will pay rent, how to feed their families, or if they will get evicted before they can start earning income again. Chaos tends to bring discomfort and panic.
It is important for us to help the people we are working with begin to feel a sense of calm again. By providing a calm environment and helping people put their options in order, we can help people reclaim the feeling of peace they may have lost during this pandemic.
As trauma can be both a cause and effect of homelessness, and as traumatic experiences may affect every aspect of someone’s life, it is vital for us to look at the bigger picture. We really need to consider people’s individual history when trying to plan their care.
There is not one single solution for people experiencing homelessness. By trying to fit each person into a “one-size-fits-all” box, we remove what little choice they have in their life. When living on the street, or in a car, or couch-surfing people still have some semblance of choice. They choose where to sleep or who to stay with. By forcing our own ideas of what works upon them, we steal their choice and have much lower rates of long-term success.
As people, we need to feel a certain level of control to feel safe. When you take away control from an already traumatized person, the feelings and emotions associated with the initial trauma are likely to resurface. This can be extremely damaging.
For most of us, during this pandemic, we have felt some loss of control. We have been told where we can go, who we can be with, and what is essential. However, what seems essential to you, may not be essential to me. And when dealing with homelessness, what is essential looks a lot different.
When the fallout of the current pandemic is added to an already chaotic housing crisis, the perceived lack of control can be so emotionally damaging that people feel overwhelmed and spiral into depression. It is important when providing services that we help clients focus on what they do have control over.
By providing a strong support system for our clients partnered with a stable living environment, we can begin to give back some of the control that they desperately need.
When you have experienced trauma, it can feel safer to disconnect. You think no one else could possibly understand what you’re going through, so you shut yourself away.
During the pandemic, connections are more important than ever. Social distancing leaves so many people feeling disconnected. Obviously, this guidance needs to be followed, but for someone who hasn’t had human contact for a few days, the value of a chat, even from a few feet away, or a video call, should not be underestimated.
There is no doubt that without certain services, many people would be facing even more dire situations than they already are. However, it’s not only about the services; it’s about the people who work for those services who constantly go above and beyond to connect with the clients they serve.
We are all in the same storm, but the life jackets aren’t one-size-fits-all and not all of them self-inflate. Homeless people deserve to be seen as human beings, with varying needs.