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Exploring the Trauma Experiences of Homeless Families: A Literature Synthesis

McAlister, Shenika (2019) Exploring the Trauma Experiences of Homeless Families: A Literature Synthesis. Master Essay, University of Pittsburgh.

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“Trauma” comes from the Greek word meaning “wound” as in a physical injury to the body. Only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did trauma take on the psychological connotations we attach to the word today. From experiences of trauma resulting from a single event to complex trauma resulting from extended, repeated traumatic events, the effects of trauma can be long-lasting and negatively affect both mental and physical health.

Families experiencing homelessness constitute 33% of the total homeless population. Homelessness itself presents numerous challenges, but many families also struggle to cope with problems that preceded homelessness and/or that may compound it. This literature synthesis explores trauma in the lives of homeless families. The findings suggest that the trauma histories of homeless families are quite extensive and include abuse and neglect as children as well as intimate partner violence in adulthood. Children in homeless families often witness abuse suffered by their caregivers. In terms of the impact of trauma, depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other psychiatric disorders are not uncommon among homeless mothers. Children are similarly negatively affected. They may experience internalizing and/or externalizing problems. Internalizing problems include depression, anxiety, and PTSD whereas externalizing problems include aggression and other behavioral problems.

There are many interventions designed to help members of families who have experienced traumatic events. However, homeless families may not be able to take advantage of such offerings because of housing instability. While it is certainly important for homeless families to eventually receive trauma-related interventions, what can be done at the point of homelessness? One option is for providers of services to the homeless to follow trauma-informed practices, which are outlined as part of this literature synthesis.

Homelessness in and of itself is a significant public health problem. For example, homelessness is associated with physical and mental health problems and barriers to accessing care. With respect to trauma and homelessness, the severity of trauma symptoms is predictive of long-term housing instability for families. Thus, it is important to address trauma among homeless families to help keep them out of shelters and other unstable living situations.


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Item Type: Other Thesis, Dissertation, or Long Paper (Master Essay)
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
McAlister, Shenikasam351@pitt.edusam351
ContributionContributors NameEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBear, Toddtobst2@pitt.eduUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
Committee MemberEngel, Rafaelrengel@pitt.eduUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
Date: 24 April 2019
Date Type: Completion
Number of Pages: 62
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Degree: MPH - Master of Public Health
Thesis Type: Master Essay
Refereed: Yes
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2019 18:12
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2019 18:12


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