Thoughts on Trauma and Homelessness

Working with Homeless – Reflections on Trauma Practice

Trauma is interwoven with homelessness. I noticed this when working with asylum seekers and refugees in St Martin-in-the Fields (see article  For the past 3 months in 2024, I have had the honour of being a Facilitator for Mawle Court -offering a space for Reflective Practice for Project Workers in a homeless facility in Banbury.

What is trauma?  A wound – one that we often hide from ourselves and others in order to survive and carry on. A wound is left when we have too much to bear. Our response to having too much to bear is often left inside of us, as a kind of charge of energy. Individuals become homeless for complex reasons, but often because life has thrown something that is too much for them. Things can so often spiral, so where one trauma goes another follows.

Working as a facilitator within the homeless organisation for the past three months, I have noticed trauma themes singing out loud and clear. These are my preliminary observations:

1. Clients are experiencing overwhelming emotions as a result of trauma. As a result, they present in a variety of complex ways including mental health instability, suicidal presentation, physical illness, threatening, changeable and florid or extreme behaviours.

2. How difficult it is to contain and care for individuals who are traumatised and present in such complex diverse, repetitive and yet unpredictable ways!  How organisations, structures and systems can groan under the weight of demand and the colossal pressure of needing to be flexible, responsive and caring, in the face of both enormous demand and lack of resources.

3. Support workers who pick up the trauma of others often feel powerless to help and become overwhelmed themselves. Part of this is because trauma charge is pushed into them! We need help to understand what can happen to us when we are around the trauma of others. And how our own traumas, past and present, can be touched and triggered. We can become charged too. We need help to regulate, to soothe ourselves and understand what has happened to us. We can find ways to discharge our trauma charge, to enable us to manage and continue on in this demanding work.

As a consequence of understanding the overwhelming nature of trauma,, I believe Support Workers who assist homeless, as well as homeless themselves need our special support and respect.