Narratives Reveal Trauma for Homeless Women Living in Hotels
“I never imagined myself living at an extended stay hotel. I never imagined it would be this bad,” says Sophia, who found herself and her two children living in a budget hotel following a mortgage foreclosure and two apartment evictions during her attempt to end an abusive relationship.
Sophia describes her experiences as one of the 21 interviewees in the latest article by Terri Lewinson, an assistant professor of Social Work and her co-authors Shaneureka White, an alumna of the School of Social Work and M. Lori Thomas of the University of North Carolina- Charlotte.
“Traumatic Transitions: Homeless Women’s Narratives of Abuse, Loss, and Fear,” published in Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work (2014), reveals that women living in extended stay hotels as a result of homelessness are at increased risks for victimization, sexual assault, chronic health challenges and mortality born from temporary living conditions for low-wage residents.
Interviewees revealed trauma narratives of physical and emotional abuse, childhood maltreatment, loss, financial exploitation, sexual intimidation, eviction anxiety, environmental stress, crime exposure and systemic subjugation. For example, entrapment was a burden mentioned throughout the study. Another frequent challenge came in the form of barriers to seeking help, which made it difficult for the women to escape these conditions.
The research stems from a series of studies on extended stay hotel effects that Lewinson completed as part of a larger study for the John A. Hartford Geriatric Social Work Initiative. As a Hartford Faculty Scholar, she has received funding to conduct geriatric social work research that promotes awareness of housing concerns for people trying to successfully age-in-place.
She decided to gather these narratives when, during her earlier research, “a faint voice began to come through, and the women seemed to have a dominant trauma narrative emerging across the studies.
“Basically I had to walk up to people and ask them if I could tell their story. They were very open to letting me know what their experiences were and even appreciative that someone would stop and talk to them.”
The stories told by marginally housed and traumatized women provide an important link in understanding the experiences and effects of living in extended stay hotels. This understanding is important because it will help practitioners address challenges when attempting to coordinate housing interventions, Lewinson says.
Lewinson and her co-authors do caution policymakers and practitioners involved in future research on this subject. “While extended stay hotels were initially helpful for women in our study for escaping abusive environments, adversities that characterized women’s experiences further threatened their safety and prolonged their sense of powerlessness,” they write.
“Improving well-being for these women calls for approaches to intervention that permanently and safely house women as soon as possible, while treating psychological and physical issues unique to women who break free from abuse and oppression.” The study also outlines trauma-informed intervention approaches for social work practice in these cases.
“The narratives described here underscore the importance of supporting women who want to move out of abusive and threatening households and into stable and healthy homes,” they conclude.
Download the full study at http://goo.gl/rfAIap.
- By Alex Camardelle, M.P.A. ‘14