Trauma-informed care makes a difference at Catholic Social Services

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Last month I wrote about ending homelessness in our community, which is the strategic focus recently adopted by Catholic Social Services’ board of trustees. It is an enormous and important goal as we focus our efforts on preventing and ending homelessness, one person at a time. Already our work has contributed greatly to reducing homelessness and improving the lives of those who have been touched by homelessness. In striving to end homelessness it is essential that we remain driven by our mission to serve, with love, those who are most vulnerable.

Saint Therese of Lisieux serves as a good reminder in this regard. She once said: “Our Lord does not look at the greatness of our actions, nor even their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.”

Each of the programs here at Catholic Socials Services, and all of our goals, are based in love of our community and respect for our fellow people. It was with the mindset of love and respect that we began the journey two years ago to transform the service model at Clare House. Clare House is a 24-hour emergency shelter open to women with children and expectant mothers over the age of 18 who are experiencing homelessness. Participants receive daily meals and referrals for child care, substance abuse/mental health, affordable permanent housing, employment, continuing educational opportunities and case management to get in to permanent housing. Clare House was started in 1983 and has served over 10,000 people since it opened.

Two years ago, Catholic Social Services transitioned from a traditional service model at Clare House to the trauma-informed care model, one that realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery. This new model also seeks to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff and others involved with the system, and it responds by integrating knowledge of trauma into policies, procedures and practices.

The staff at Clare House has worked hard to transition to trauma-informed care. It has involved making changes in rules and behaviors. That can be challenging. The success of this model, however, and our love and respect for our participants made the decision to transition easy.

Three years ago, the percentage of women who were re-admitted to Clare House after moving out was 12 percent. Today, that percentage has dropped to two percent. This speaks to a number of aspects of our programming and staff at Clare House, including the introduction of progressive housing units that allow families to stay for up to two years with a subsidized rent while they are working to put their housing plan into action. It also speaks to our transition to trauma-informed care. The dedicated staff at Clare House works with participants to build and sustain an independent life on their own. Our goal is successful permanent housing for families, and we are reaching that goal, every day, one family at a time.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.


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