When Bad Things Happen: Addressing Trauma in Communities

A few years ago, a fire caused by a tenant at Urban Edge Housing Corporation displaced over twenty families. Residents had to be evacuated and the organization had to deal with the fallout of the incident. With the complexities of relocating shocked residents, including staff members, Katie Provencher, Deputy Director of Urban Edge and former Director of Community Engagement, realized that they needed to develop robust written policies and procedures as an organization to address traumatic events.

“We realized that each of us were building up a skillset, confronting shooting incidents and fires, so we started putting together policies and procedures.” Said Provencher

Developing a trauma response plan as an organization is not just about each individual incident, but about helping communities heal from a long history of disinvestment and oppression. Unfortunately, violence and trauma occur at higher rates in poorer communities of color. Compounded with the trauma and stress of intergenerational poverty and racism, trauma in low-income communities of color is a significant public health issue linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes. Responding to trauma and facilitating healing in communities is an important way for CDCs and other community leaders to boost community resiliency and improve mental and physical health.

Background

With 1,400 units of housing, things can and do happen at Urban Edge, a CDC serving the neighborhoods of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain in Boston. Fires, shootings and accidents have all occurred during the organization’s 40 year history. Thankfully, Urban Edge is mindful of the need for strong support to survivors of trauma. Even though Urban Edge outsourced property management several years ago, they chose to keep resident services within the organization, so that they could maintain a strong connection with their community.

Urban Edge’s policies and procedures around addressing trauma include three parts: addressing residents’ needs, addressing the self-care needs of staff (who will have their own emotional reaction to such incidents), and leveraging external resources to respond to the emerging needs of the community. 

Implementing A Response Plan and Working with Partners

A few years ago, the shocking death of one of Urban Edge’s youth shook the community.

“Within the first few hours of the incident, we went door to door to see how affected they [residents] were,” said Robert Torres, Director of Community Engagement. “We looked for physical signs of distress, sometimes people were crying and sometimes the event was a trigger for something else in their life.”

Torres and his team referred affected residents to Courtney Gray, the Director of Trauma Services at the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). Courtney’s team of trained trauma counselors helped the residents cope with the physical and emotional stress they felt following the incident. 

Working with BPHC is now standard practice for Urban Edge.  Given that each incident is different, Urban Edge also works with community members to address their specific needs. When a young adult was caught in the cross-fire of a shooting incident and died, the staff helped his family apply for funeral assistance and made an appointment with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, which provides support to the survivors of homicide victims.

Preventing and Responding to Incidents

Ideally, violence and accidents would not happen.  That is why Urban Edge engages in significant efforts to reduce violence, strengthen community ties, ensure solid property management, and otherwise promote prevention. In a large community, there will come a time when CDCs and other community leaders need to respond to a tragic event, whether it is violence, fire or even a natural disaster. Given that incidents will occur, the robust and detailed policies that the organization has developed along with their network of outside partners enables Urban Edge to be ready to respond appropriately and professionally when the time comes.

By combining both prevention and a robust response plan, Urban Edge is using a trauma informed approach to help communities heal – emotionally, physically and socially.

Katie and Robert are teaching a workshop on Responding to Trauma: Facilitating Healing in Community on February 10th to help organizations develop their own policies and practices around traumatic incidents. SIGN UP TODAY.