Conference Presentation

Understanding homelessness and trauma

20 September 2016

On Tuesday 16 August, the Mercy Foundation hosted a forum on homelessness and trauma. Understanding the impacts of trauma is greatly beneficial when working with clients experiencing homelessness or have experienced homelessness.

Dr Jamie Berry was the first speaker and he discussed the impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Jamie discussed the symptoms to look out for that may indicate a brain injury, such as poor concentration, memory problems and irritability. Jamie talked about the cause/effect TBI has on homelessness. We know that 44% of homeless people report being a victim of violence whilst they are homeless. We also know that approximately 30% of chronically street homeless people self report having had a brain injury.

Jamie discussed the types of support that people living with a TBI may need in housing, such as daily living skills coaching, domestic assistance or home care, using technology to set reminders about relevant appointments and direct debit for bills.

Professor Max Bennett AO spoke about the effect of trauma on the brain of children. Child abuse has major consequences for negativity, language delay, deficits in memory performance, low self-esteem and poor relationship skills.

As adults, children who suffered abuse are more likely to have difficulty with substance dependence and addiction, post traumatic stress disorder, impulsivity, and at greater risk of depression and suicide.

Experiencing homelessness is not only traumatic for adults but also children. Professor Bennett’s presentation reminded us that it is imperative that families and children must be prioritised for safe and secure housing.

Bronwyn Penrith was the final speaker at the forum and she talked about the issue of lateral violence. Bronwyn is the chair of Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Women’s Corporation. Bronwyn has worked for equality and the recognition of Aboriginal people and their rights throughout her adult life. Bronwyn spoke about lateral violence, sometimes referred to as ‘internalised colonialism’. It is a destructive behaviour where two (or more) people effected by the same situation turn on each other, rather than confronting the situation that is oppressing them both.

This type of behaviour includes gossip, backstabbing, jealousy, bullying, blaming others and shaming. Perpetrators often have low self-esteem and feel stuck in a cycle of oppression.

Bronwyn has devoted much effort to addressing Lateral Violence with communities across Australia. She runs workshops with community groups to help them recognise Lateral Violence and take steps towards ensuring this behaviour is addressed. Treating each other with respect and kindness is a start to combatting lateral violence. Within the broader community, addressing discrimination and negative stereotypes, healthy recognition of diversity and building resilience in communities, including Lateral Violence policies in your Reconciliation Action plan (RAP) will help address the causes of lateral violence.

Dr Jamie Berry, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist