10 Tips for Recovery-Oriented, Trauma-Informed Agencies

People who are homeless often experience trauma, mental illness, and/or substance use problems.  Recovery happens in relationships that help people move past these obstacles. These ten tips can help your agency create an environment that supports recovery.

1) Create a physical environment that is welcoming and safe, where different ways of expressing emotions are tolerated. Developing a welcoming environment does not necessarily require an expensive redesign. Try incorporating living, colorful, and beautiful items such as fish tanks and plants. When clients arrive, designate someone to greet them, sit with them in the waiting area, and familiarize them with the physical space.

2) Develop policies and procedures based on the assumption that people who are homeless have been impacted by trauma. By creating an atmosphere of openness and transparency, you can help clients to feel safe. For example, be open with clients about confidentiality practices. Also, review your program’s eligibility criteria to be sure it is does not unnecessarily exclude clients from services. If eligibility criteria are barriers for some clients, assist them to make alternative arrangements to get the services they need. By minimizing barriers, you can support clients in their recovery and avoid retraumatization.

3) Review policies and procedures to ensure that they do not re-traumatize people. Procedures such as “night checks” are often important to ensure physical safety, but the sudden entry of someone with a flashlight can be startling and upsetting. Let clients know who will be coming in – and how often – and ask them about the least intrusive way for someone to enter their sleeping space.

4) Establish a wide-range of voluntary services and supports where consistent, caring relationships are offered and crisis prevention activities are ongoing. Offering a wide range of services gives clients the power of choice. The creation of individual safety and crisis prevention plans is a proactive approach to physical and emotional safety. Don’t forget about the kids – develop services targeted to children, and work with caregivers to learn about their greatest parenting strengths and needs.

5) Support client involvement in all aspects of services: as volunteers, board members, advisory committee members and staff. By soliciting input and participation from clients, you are sending a message of partnership and recovery. Try interviewing clients about suggestions for improving policies and procedures. Make a commitment to hiring former clients, and creating visible peer support and leadership roles within your agency.

6) Create activities that help people to think about, talk about, and get support to make recovery-focused changes. Providing an opportunity for clients to access peer-to-peer support is important. Through peer support, clients can decrease isolation, foster accountability, and increase self-esteem. Peers can act as supportive liaisons in a variety of roles, including health care visits, accessing entitlements, filling out paperwork, and going to court.

7) Talk about the principles of trauma-informed care among staff and clients. You could also place trauma-specific educational material in highly visible areas for people to read, such as posters in hallways, bathrooms, bulletin boards, kitchens, etc. The more opportunities that staff have to learn and talk about trauma-informed care, the sooner it will become part of a common language in your agency.

8) Provide training for consumers and providers on trauma-informed care. Organize trainings about the relationship between trauma, mental health, physical health and substance use, and create opportunities for staff to attend off-site conferences and trainings. Teach staff how to identify triggers and respond in a trauma-sensitive way.

9) Develop newsletters, art, poems and other ways to highlight the possibility of recovery from trauma. Have consumers and staff contribute to these activities through writing, editing, drawing or painting. Creative and artistic activities don’t only help people who are in the process of recovery – they can teach others about the journey as well.

10) Create surveys, focus groups and reports to document and move your agency towards more trauma-informed practices. These activities should be part of a broader action plan to make your agency trauma-informed. Identify gaps in services and ways to fill those gaps. Hold your team accountable at monthly, quarterly or bi-annual check-ins.

1) Prescott, L., Soares, P., Konnath, K., & Bassuk, E., (2008) A Long Journey Home: A Guide for Creating Trauma-Informed Services for Mothers and Children Experiencing Homelessness. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services Administration, U.S.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA