The Government will fail in its mission to end homelessness if it does not tackle trauma suffered by people facing homelessness. This is the stark warning from David Smith, CEO of homelessness charity Oasis Community Housing, following new research commissioned by the charity that reveals 94% of people facing homelessness have experienced one or more traumas that have left them unable to access the help they need.

The England-wide research ‘Trauma and Homelessness’, conducted by Northumbria University, showed half of people facing homelessness have experienced five or more traumas, such as sexual or domestic abuse, violence, family death or war.

Pledge your support for our new Tackling Trauma, Ending Homelessness campaign >>>

The research found each trauma increased the risk of mental ill-health, lack of self-care, substance misuse, the inability to concentrate or learn, and homelessness amongst others. All these effects of trauma, when unaddressed, also impact people’s capacity to remember to attend appointments or properly manage tenancies creating a vicious cycle of homelessness.

Former Oasis Community Housing resident Amanda Walton remembers, “My leg got broken at 18 months old, in the middle of an argument. After that, I had 15 foster placements in seven years. Lots of living out of bags. I didn’t want to empty my suitcase as I knew I wouldn’t be there very long.

“I remember getting my first council flat at 18 years old, which was fantastic at first, having my own independence. But drink and drugs were always a problem. I didn’t realise or want to admit that I was an alcoholic. That flat broke down.”

A single incident of trauma caused by a random event has a profound effect on the well-being of an individual, but multiple events or ‘complex trauma’ will pervade every aspect of a person’s being. It is this complex trauma that the research identifies as a defining factor for people who fall into homelessness.

David Smith, Oasis Community Housing CEO, comments, “We hear stories like Amanda’s every day; it is futile to try to solve the issue of homelessness without addressing the trauma people have suffered. Frontline staff working in homelessness services must have trauma-informed training to offer appropriate support, as well as helping to protect themselves from vicarious trauma.

“A national trauma-informed training programme, delivered by Government, would save lives as well as taxpayer’s pounds.”

The new research launched at a Parliamentary event this week, hosted by APPG for Ending Homelessness Vice Chair The Rt Hon Sir Stephen Timms and supported by Homeless Link. The launch was attended by almost 50 Parliamentarians, sector partners and other homelessness and trauma experts this week – including Shadow Minister for Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, Paula Barker, Lord Kerslake and Bob Blackman.

Dr Harding of Northumbria University, who co-authored the research, said, “The impact of trauma has been an increasingly important theme in homelessness research in recent years and there is a growing realisation that, for the majority of people for whom homeless is a longer-term issue, trauma is always there in the background of their lives, whether that is from childhood, adolescence, as an adult, or throughout their whole lives.”

The research provides evidence that specialist and timely trauma-informed support offers a real chance to end cycles of homelessness. However, almost half of people surveyed had not been able to access specialist help for their trauma and some reported only being “taken seriously” after reaching a crisis point.

Northumbria University researcher, Dr Irving, added, “One important finding which came out of the research is the value of a trauma-informed approach to service delivery which is mindful of the traumatic experiences someone has gone through.

“This isn’t about creating new services. There are already housing, mental health, and substance misuse services available. However, we need to ask why some individuals are unable to access or engage with those services and why some are returning to those services again and again. But a trauma-informed approach may be key to making it easier for those who need support to access those services.”

Establishing trauma-informed care as best practice would drive real change by ensuring trauma is recognised as part of people’s pathway into homelessness, as well as providing significant social and economic benefits. The Fulfilling Lives programme, which was scrutinised as part of this research, estimated that the reduction in use of public services following trauma-informed care interventions was equivalent to a saving of over £700 per year, per person.

For residents of Oasis Community Housing’s projects, trauma-informed support has been a literal lifesaver, as Amanda recalls, “When I moved into my Naomi flat it was the first time I’d unpacked a bag in years. I felt safe. I unpacked everything! It was the start of Amanda’s life.”

David Smith concludes, “We saw a concerted effort to put a roof over every rough sleepers’ head during the pandemic, but only by recognising and committing to tackle the trauma that is deep-rooted within our homeless population can we even begin to hope to end entrenched homelessness in this country.”

To read a summary of the research or find out more about our associated our calls on the Government, visit our Tackling Trauma, Ending Homelessness campaigns page.