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New study points to trauma as a contributing factor in homelessness

Michelle Faust

The majority of homeless mothers in upstate New York have experienced trauma in their lives -- about half of these show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A 12-month study of nearly 300 homeless families in Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester released last week by The Wilson Foundation shows 93 percent of the mothers in the study experienced either physical or sexual abuse in their lifetimes.

The director of the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institute for Research, Carmela DeCandia believes there are many societal factors create homelessness -- like poverty and the availability of affordable housing, but for most women domestic violence is another contributor.

“According to the World Health Organization, domestic violence among women is really around 30 percent, for homeless women it soars to over 60 percent,” said DeCandia. "It really is one of the most common pathways into homelessness for women.”

The study revealed 70 percent of homeless mothers have experienced physical abuse in their lifetimes.

Milagro Bursey found herself homeless more than a year ago. Now, she advises the director of housing at the YWCA to help intake women who come in seeking services. Bursey doesn’t find the results of the study surprising.

“The women that I've seen come through there, when they came in, they came in with a very negative attitude. They didn't know where they were going,” said Bursey. “When they left there they had structure. They knew how to take care of the babies. They knew what to do next if there was an emergency.”

John Paul Perez, chairman of the Homeless Services Network, appreciates the facts revealed in the study as factors service providers should keep in mind when working with homeless families.

“What that points to is to be intentional about having services that are trauma informed, and having the sensitivity of understanding the effects of trauma and how your services could either add or help that effect,” said Perez.