News Analysis

Trauma-Informed Design: A New Social Equity Imperative

By applying the principles of “trauma-informed care,” building professionals can prevent re-traumatization while reducing stress for everyone.

“You can probably feel each other’s breath on you.” Renee Weeks is a social worker providing services for people experiencing homelessness at Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Vermont. Her empathy for guests comes through while she tries to imagine what it’s like to share cramped sleeping quarters with a stranger. “I would be so uncomfortable in that situation that I wouldn’t want to design it that way for someone else, if I had that power,” Weeks told BuildingGreen.

Discomfort is bad enough, but when a person has experienced trauma, an adverse situation that’s out of the victim’s control can trigger re-traumatization—reliving the emotions associated with a traumatic event. The results are often externalized: people who feel unsafe may “try to push or scare people away from them,” said Weeks. More opportunities for re-traumatization for other guests arise, not to mention management issues for shelter staff. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, one of Upper Valley’s emergency shelters went from shared quarters to single-occupancy rooms, and the difference is dramatic, according to Weeks. Although she admitted she can’t scientifically attribute it to the new situation, “since we moved to people having their own space, we’ve had no behavioral issues here at all. People are happier, more likely to do cleaning chores; they take more pride in their environment and are kinder and more respectful.”

Published June 7, 2021

Melton, P. (2021, May 18). Trauma-Informed Design: A New Social Equity Imperative. Retrieved from