“The first thing we want survivors of domestic violence and homelessness to do is make a lot of decisions. We give them a checklist or we give them all of these things that they have to do to move forward. But, we’re not realizing that they may have gone for hours, days, weeks without sleep. How can you make a good decision?”
~Ruth Glenn (from: Sleep Deprivation Is an ‘Unrecognized Problem’ for Homeless People

UnshelteredCritical Issue #10:Trauma and Survival Fatigue
Connections between trauma, homelessness, and survival fatigue 

  • Trauma is any type of distressing event or experience that has an impact on a person’s ability to cope and function.
  • Homelessness may be the result of a series of losses (employment, housing, family, community) or an event (domestic violence, eviction, natural disaster). Most people will experience these occurrences as traumatic to some degree.
  • Trauma can lead to homelessness and vice versa.
  • Survival fatigue is cognitive weariness and psychological exhaustion that makes it difficult to perform tasks or seek help related to getting ahead or even getting by.
  • Sleep deprivation is common among unsheltered people. Some sleep during the day in public spaces because they don’t feel safe sleeping at night.
  • Because services are provided by numerous agencies at multiple locations, people are often asked to fill out forms, attend several appointments, and answer the same personal intake questions-  asked by a series of strangers – in order to get their basic needs met.

What can we do?

  1. Learn about -and practice – Trauma Informed Care
  2. Mitigate cognitive and emotional burdens of living with scarcity and hardship (survival fatigue) by
    • avoiding re-traumatization 
    • increasing community outreach activities
    • simplifing application procedures and eligibility requirements, and 
    • creating smooth pathways to a wider range of services to meet basic needs.
  3. Practice self care
  4. Provide opportunities for training, peer support, and debriefing for staff and volunteers who work directly with survivors of traumatic incidents.
  5. Keep up the good work! Many staff and volunteers involved in outreach teams and day centers DO provide trauma informed care. The time and honesty required to build and maintain trust is real commitment. Also, the surest pathway toward health and housing for all. Thank you!

More about trauma and survival fatigue

More about Vicarious and Secondary Trauma

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.___________________________________________________________________________________
Additional information and graphics for the Safe Sites 4 All Campaign are available here.Please help us promote solutions by sharing these messages with others.

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