The seeds of chronic homelessness, with the addictions and mental illness that often accompany it, are sown frequently in traumatic childhoods. A survey of 300 people experiencing chronic homelessness and those sleeping rough in Calgary reveals that these individuals have suffered childhood trauma at a rate five times higher than the general population. Those traumas include neglect, parents with addiction issues, domestic violence and abuse. Unfortunately for those seeking help, community-based services in Calgary have been unable to keep up since the prevailing philosophy became one of releasing these people from institutions into the community. A 62 per cent reduction in psychiatric beds some 30 years ago was accompanied by levels of funding that simply weren’t enough to provide all the resulting community services needed. People without families to turn to, and with no social supports, tended to end up homeless. It has become a vicious circle – while mental health issues can lead to homelessness, homelessness also puts people at greater risk for mental illness. Because childhood trauma plays such a key role in chronic homelessness, it needs to be figured into the kinds of housing and support programs that are put in place for people who are homeless. Psychiatric supports should be among the programs that homeless shelters offer and should also be provided on a priority basis for people using the intervention program called Housing First.
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