Thursday, April 16, 2015

Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance Launches New Quarterly “Hard Conversations” Series

This last Friday, April 10, 2015, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance launched a new quarterly educational series titled “Hard Conversations” focusing on challenging issues related to homelessness. The inaugural conversation, presented in partnership with Austin Street Center was titled “The Victimization Experiences and Health Challenges of Women Who are Homeless”. Jan Langbein, CEO of Shelter Ministries, which includes Austin Street Center, opened the conversation, which was held at Austin Street, and introduced MDHA’s new President and CEO, Cindy J. Crain, who introduced the speakers.

Jan Langbein
Dr. Emily Spence Almaguer of the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) School of Public Health, and Ms. Gabrianna Saks, who earned her Master of Public Health at UNTHSC, presented extensive results of the study they conducted on this important issue. They walked the 110 professionals, funders, volunteers and homeless advocates in attendance, through their research process. This process involved the collection and analysis of detailed quantitative and qualitative data, gleaned from extensive interviews of approximately 150 homeless women in Tarrant County. They elaborated on how the results of the study provide a deep and detailed understanding of the violence and threats experienced by homeless women on the street and in emergency shelter settings.

Dr. Emily Spence Almaguer
The levels of violence and health concerns experienced by these women are eye-opening, with about 1 in 5 of the women suffering rape, and 2 out of 3 experiencing some type of violence or victimization. The levels of victimization amongst these women are many times higher than women in the general population, with four times as many women experiencing domestic abuse and five times as many suffering theft. Their health concerns are also acute, with 45% of the women reporting struggling with shortness of breath, 37% suffering chronic pain, and 27% reporting mental problems.

Spence-Almaguer and Saks presented not only findings but recommendations, some from the homeless women themselves, to address the challenges the study highlights. They also discussed the comprehensive effort undertaken in Tarrant County to follow these recommendations. These efforts involved integrating all of the systems of care that touch these women, from rape crisis centers to substance abuse treatment to homeless services, and using a trauma-informed approach to this issue. Trauma informed care, according to the Trauma Informed Care Project, is “an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma.”

In practical terms this meant the community coming together and establishing 24/7 shelter for women, reducing women’s barriers to permanent housing solutions, integrating victim advocacy services with housing solutions, and reducing sources of community endangerment. Spence-Almaguer cited the aforementioned Crain, who until recently served as Executive Director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, as instrumental in implementing many of the changes the speakers discussed. Spence-Almaguer took many questions, and in closing, challenged those present to take replicate what Tarrant County did in the Dallas area under Crain’s new leadership.

Wrapping up the event, Crain thanked Langbein, the speakers and all who attended, and gave a sneak preview of some of the topics yet to come in future “Hard Conversations”.  These will include how a community should deal with tent cities or homeless encampments, challenges specific to LGBT homeless, and how to address sex-offender homelessness. For a full slide show from this presentation click here:  

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