Trauma Informed Community Building

Emily Weinstein, Jessica Wolin, Sharon Rose
Bridge Housing, Health Equity Institute
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
May, 2014
Across the country efforts to revitalize low-income and public housing are underway as part of large-scale community development initiatives that seek to alleviate poverty and improve neighborhoods. Community development is a continuous process of identifying community needs and developing the assets to meet those needs (Green and Haines, 2007). It is well recognized that community development of public housing sites requires extensive community building, which is the active participation of residents in the process of strengthening community networks, programs and institutions (Naparstek, Dooley & Smith, 1997). Federal housing programs such as HOPE VI and CHOICE Neighborhoods mandate community leadership as integral to revitalization efforts and have institutionalized this approach by requiring resident involvement in determining community needs and the development of local solutions. This widely supported community building approach seeks
to acknowledge and tap into community assets and to prioritize community member voices and engagement. However, there is a growing understanding that trauma experienced by many low-income and public housing communities present a challenging context for these community building efforts. 
Trauma is a set of normal human responses to stressful and threatening experiences (National Center for PTSD, 2007). Low-income and public housing residents may experience cumulative trauma resulting from daily stressors of violence and concentrated poverty, as well as historic and structural conditions of racism and disenfranchisement (Collins, et al., 2010). Public housing residents are over twice as likely as the general American population to suffer from gun violence (National Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2000). In addition, historical trauma due to a legacy of racism, residential segregation and oppression takes its toll on residents’ emotional and physical well-being (Wilson, 1987). For many adults, children and families these conditions cause chronic stress and overwhelm residents’ abilities to cope (Marmot, 2004; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2013). 
Pervasive current and historical trauma demands a community building approach that takes into account residents’ emotional needs and avoids re-traumatization triggers, which “traditional” models of community building may ignore or exacerbate. Just as a “trauma informed approach” is now accepted as essential for effective service delivery to many individuals living in these communities (SAMHSA, 2012), a trauma informed approach to community building is required to create sustainable improvements to their social and physical environment.
This Report presents a model of Trauma Informed Community Building (TICB) that addresses the challenges trauma poses to traditional community building strategies. TICB strategies de-escalate chaos and stress, build social cohesion and foster community resiliency over time. The TICB model is based on BRIDGE Housing Corporation’s experience doing community building work over the past five years in the Potrero Terrace and Annex public housing site in San Francisco. The work in Potrero is part of San Francisco’s HOPE SF initiative, a public-private partnership led by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office to rebuild some of the most distressed public housing in San Francisco. The TICB model effectively takes into account the real-life experiences of lowincome and public housing residents. Its application ensures that community building promotes community healing as part of housing transformation efforts
Monitoring & Evaluation
North America
Community Development
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