Tackling trauma to end homelessness

The government will fail in its mission to end homelessness if it does not tackle trauma suffered by people facing homelessness. This is the warning from new research commissioned by Oasis, exploring trauma as a root cause of homelessness.


In 2022 Oasis Community Housing (the part of Oasis that leads our homelessness work) commissioned a piece of England-wide research, conducted by Northumbria University together with Fulfilling Lives, the Centre for Homelessness Impact, and Homeless Link. The research revealed that 94% of people facing homelessness have experienced at least one trauma (such as sexual or domestic abuse, violence, family death, war, or conflict) leaving them unable to access the help they need. Half of those surveyed had experienced five or more traumas.

A cumulative impact
The research found that each trauma increased the risk of mental ill-health, lack of self-care, substance misuse, the inability to concentrate or learn, and homelessness. All these effects of trauma, when unaddressed, also impact (for example) people’s capacity to remember to attend appointments or properly manage tenancies, creating a vicious cycle of homelessness.

Former Oasis Community Housing resident Amanda Walton remembers, “My leg got broken at 18 months old, in the middle of an argument. After that, I had 15 foster placements in seven years. Lots of living out of bags. I didn’t want to empty my suitcase as I knew I wouldn’t be there very long. I remember getting my first council flat at 18 years old, which was fantastic at first, having my own independence. But drink and drugs were always a problem. I didn’t realise or want to admit that I was an alcoholic. That flat broke down.”

A single incident of trauma caused by a random event has a profound effect on the well-being of an individual, but multiple events or ‘complex trauma’ will pervade every aspect of a person’s being. It is this complex trauma that the research identifies as a defining factor for people who fall into homelessness.

A trauma-informed approach
David Smith, Oasis Community Housing CEO, explains, “We hear stories like Amanda’s every day; it is futile to try to solve the issue of homelessness without addressing the trauma people have suffered. Frontline staff working in homelessness services must have trauma-informed training to offer appropriate support, as well as helping to protect themselves from vicarious trauma. A national trauma-informed training programme, delivered by Government, would save lives.”

The report was launched at Parliamentary event at the end of 2022, hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness Vice Chair, Sir Stephen Timms, MP. The launch was attended by 50 Parliamentarians, sector partners and other homelessness and trauma experts– including Shadow Minister for Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, Paula Barker, Lord Kerslake, and Bob Blackman.

Co-author Dr Harding of Northumbria University comments, “The impact of trauma has been an increasingly important theme in homelessness research in recent years and there is a growing realisation that, for the majority of people for whom homeless is a longer-term issue, trauma is always there in the background of their lives, whether that is from childhood, adolescence, as an adult, or throughout their whole lives. One important finding which came out through the research is the value of a trauma-informed approach to service delivery which is mindful of the traumatic experiences someone has gone through. This isn’t about creating new services. There are already housing, mental health, and substance misuse services available. However, we need to ask why some individuals are unable to access or engage with those services and why some are returning to those services again and again. But a trauma-informed approach may be key to making it easier for those who need support to access those services.”

The way ahead
For residents of Oasis Community Housing’s projects, trauma-informed support has been a literal lifesaver, as Amanda recalls, “When I moved into my Naomi flat it was the first time I’d unpacked a bag in years. I felt safe. I unpacked everything! It was the start of Amanda’s life.” David Smith concludes, “Establishing trauma-informed care as best practice would drive real change by ensuring trauma is recognised as part of people’s pathway into homelessness, as well as providing significant social and economic benefits. We saw a concerted effort to put a roof over every rough sleepers’ head during the pandemic, but only by recognising and committing to tackle the trauma that is deep-rooted within our homeless population can we even begin to hope to end entrenched homelessness in this country.”

How you can help
Oasis has launched a campaign to lobby government for a national trauma-informed response to end homelessness. In the first month of the campaign, we’ve had two Parliamentary questions put forward, national media coverage, and invitations to conferences and to a further Parliamentary roundtable to discuss the issue. You can join in my signing our pledge – available online, together with the full research report at