Trauma Informed Community Building: The Evolution of a Community Engagement Model in a Trauma Impacted Neighborhood

Across the country, large-scale community development efforts have focused on improving the built environment. Walkable streets, transit-oriented developments, and mixed-income communities hold the promise of safer neighborhoods and a better quality of life for low-income residents and the surrounding community. Programs and social services, alongside quality mixed-income housing, property management and asset-based community building, are intended to deconcentrate poverty and create cohesive, racially diverse communities where people feel safe, are economically self-sufficient, and able to pursue their own goals. However, over the years, we have seen many community development initiatives fall short of the community building and long-term social impacts they aim to achieve. Often, residents are weary of participating in community building efforts, social services are not accessed, relationships across income levels are not achieved, and low-income families struggle to escape the challenges of intergenerational poverty. So, why do many efforts to revitalize low-income communities fall short?

Many of these efforts are challenged by pervasive community trauma experienced by residents living in low-income communities. Trauma resulting from historic and structural racism, exclusion, and isolation, as well as the chronic, daily stressors of concentrated poverty and exposure to community violence, all pose barriers to participation in community building efforts and limit the impact of community development initiatives.

The Trauma Informed Community Building (TICB) model was developed as a holistic approach to community engagement that recognizes the impacts of community trauma on residents’ lives. The TICB model recognizes that community trauma hampers participation in traditional community building and limits the impacts of broader community development efforts. TICB is a proactive model that serves as a precursor to traditional community development: it assumes that communities require a set of common experiences and conditions to participate fully in community building and benefit from sustained community development. Specifically, TICB strategies help de-escalate chaos and stress, build social cohesion, and foster community resiliency, all of which create the foundation necessary to maintain community development efforts. The outcomes of TICB go beyond traditional community building; they support the long-term health and well-being of a community by influencing the institutions that can support community improvements and meet community needs into the future.

Published: 2018

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