A Model Move: Trauma Informed Community Building

Posted September 16, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog amodelmove 2015

In work­ing to help fam­i­lies move out of pover­ty, Casey has rec­og­nized the adverse effects and long-term impli­ca­tions of stress on chil­dren and their par­ents. The per­sis­tent strain of not hav­ing enough mon­ey for food, rent or elec­tric­i­ty is often exac­er­bat­ed by trau­ma in the com­mu­ni­ty or at home. These stres­sors fur­ther com­pro­mise a child’s well-being and abil­i­ty to thrive in school and beyond.

Across the coun­try, pub­lic hous­ing revi­tal­iza­tion efforts are focus­ing on strength­en­ing their community’s social fab­ric and prepar­ing res­i­dents to tran­si­tion to new hous­ing and mixed-income neigh­bor­hoods. Yet exist­ing pro­grams and poli­cies designed to help these fam­i­lies often ignored the trau­ma they experienced.

Such wide­spread trau­ma has long defined San Francisco’s pub­lic hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties and prompt­ed the devel­op­ment of an alter­na­tive com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing approach called the Trau­ma Informed Com­mu­ni­ty Build­ing (TICB) model. 

This mod­el — cre­at­ed by the Health Equi­ty Insti­tute at San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty and a non­prof­it afford­able hous­ing devel­op­er called the BRIDGE Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion — is unique in its recog­ni­tion of com­mu­ni­ty- and indi­vid­ual-lev­el trauma. 

In a new report, researchers at the HOPE SF Learn­ing Cen­ter — part of San Fran­cis­co State University’s Health Equi­ty Insti­tute — out­line ear­ly lessons from the model’s implementation:

  1. Do no harm by rec­og­niz­ing past and cur­rent trau­ma and avoid retrau­ma­tiz­ing indi­vid­u­als and the community.
  2. Accep­tance: Meet res­i­dents where they are, accept­ing the real­i­ties of com­mu­ni­ty conditions.
  3. Com­mu­ni­ty empow­er­ment: Includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and ensur­ing equi­table par­tic­i­pa­tion pro­mote a sense of hope and control.
  4. Engag­ing in an ongo­ing reflec­tive process that adjusts to new devel­op­ments and com­mu­ni­ty needs is key. TICB takes a long-term approach to improv­ing out­comes in com­mu­ni­ties that have expe­ri­enced trauma.

At its core, TICB aims to enhance com­mu­ni­ty readi­ness by pro­mot­ing social cohe­sion and resilien­cy. It works to ensure that res­i­dents are bet­ter equipped to adjust to chang­ing cir­cum­stances, includ­ing tran­si­tion­ing to a mixed-income neighborhood.

Three addi­tion­al take­aways from the report: 

  1. When res­i­dents attend com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing activ­i­ties, their men­tal and phys­i­cal health improve.
    In addi­tion to report­ing self-esteem boosts, engaged res­i­dents said they felt hap­pi­er, more relaxed and less depressed. Sev­er­al indi­vid­u­als report­ed los­ing weight, eat­ing health­i­er, exer­cis­ing more and expe­ri­enc­ing reduced asth­ma symptoms.
  2. Even though com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty is a sig­nif­i­cant par­tic­i­pa­tion hur­dle for res­i­dents, zones of safe­ty” may exist around com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing activities. 
    Even if their imme­di­ate sur­round­ings were unsafe, respon­dents report­ed feel­ing safe dur­ing com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing activ­i­ties. These local­ized zones of safe­ty” were due to a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, includ­ing con­sis­tent staff, neu­tral loca­tions and a sense of con­nect­ed­ness among participants.
  3. Hold­ing week­ly activ­i­ties cre­ates a sense of struc­ture and con­sis­ten­cy for residents.
    Res­i­dents not­ed that cer­tain fac­tors, such as a con­ve­nient loca­tion and time and hav­ing no entry fee, made it eas­i­er for them to par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties on an ongo­ing basis. This pre­dictable, sta­ble sched­ule sup­ports TICB’s cen­tral aim to de-esca­late chaos” that may be present in some res­i­dents’ lives.

Today — four years after its imple­men­ta­tion — the TICB mod­el has helped the BRIDGE Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion and San Fran­cis­co rebuild the city’s Potrero Ter­race and Annex (PTA) hous­ing devel­op­ments. This effort is part of the city’s HOPE SF ini­tia­tive, which is the first large-scale pub­lic hous­ing revi­tal­iza­tion project in the nation to invest in high-qual­i­ty sus­tain­able hous­ing and broad-scale com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment while dis­plac­ing as few res­i­dents as possible.

Res­i­dents from PTA and sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods are now engaged in com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing activ­i­ties and con­tin­ue to form new bonds. As a result of these ear­ly suc­cess­es, the city of San Fran­cis­co plans to imple­ment TICB at all of its HOPE SF sites.

Researchers are look­ing to expand the TICB mod­el to fur­ther sup­port social cohe­sion and resilien­cy. These changes include: 

  • broad­en­ing the model’s focus on heal­ing to include phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and healthy liv­ing, which have a well-estab­lished pos­i­tive impact on stressed indi­vid­u­als; and
  • using it to encour­age readi­ness to engage with ser­vices, to live in new hous­ing and to change behaviors. 

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