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NKCDC is incorporating trauma-informed practices into its community development work

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New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) has spent the last few years hearing community residents’ needs from Lehigh to Allegheny avenues via meetings and door-to-door surveys, and letting that input shape its work.

Last month, the Kresge Foundation awarded NKCDC a two-year, $150,000 grant to take its community development work to the next level.

The funding is part of Advancing Health Equity through Housing, a new Kresge Health Program initiative that addresses harmful ways housing instability affects mental and physical health. NKCDC will use the money to incorporate trauma-informed care into its housing counseling, economic development and community engagement services with initiatives such as:

  • Hiring Kensington-based community leaders who have been trained in trauma-informed care
  • Creating new ways to increase access to the org’s housing services
  • Incorporating trauma-informed care into those housing services

Trauma-informed care involves recognizing, acknowledging and responding to trauma and its effects; in Philadelphia, funders and city officials alike are incorporating the approach in their work. By adhering to trauma-informed principles, NKCDC staffers hope to better understand the issues Kensington residents face and the best ways to help

The Kresge grant will help NKCDC “apply those principles of healing to support people to stay in their homes and their ability to sign up for a variety of programs that exist for housing repair,” said Andrew Goodman, the nonprofit’s community engagement director. “[It’ll also] better connect them to our staff of housing advisors to help them on a variety of housing stability issues and programs.”

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Last summer, 703 Kensington residents experienced homelessness, compared to only 271 in 2017.

Matt Tice has some insight into the problem as the director of clinical services at Pathways to Housing PA, a nonprofit that also works in Kensington and is dedicated to helping people who have experienced homelessness for years and have mental health or substance use disorders. He said housing instability can majorly impact mental health.

“They don’t have a safe place to lay their head, they don’t have a place to put medications for the night, they don’t know if they’re going to be attacked at any point because they’re constantly vulnerable,” Tice said. “It means that they’re regularly on guard, they’re always needing to be in survival mode, and it’s really hard to come back from that.”

Community organizations being trauma-informed is important because it creates a safe space where residents will trust service administrators, helping establish relationships.

NKCDC’s new internal trauma-informed methods stem from a co-design process that NKCDC, Kensington residents, community development org LISC and nonprofit Impact Services started in 2016. The groups worked together to develop new methods of engaging Kensington neighbors in addressing issues to make them feel safer and develop a sense of community, Goodman said.

“We identify a need or a benefit or a systems program that we think would be useful for neighbors and we organize an event, but find that an event that we organize, for example, gets smaller turnout than an event that a neighbor organized,” Goodman explained.

“So it’s starting to think about our approaches in terms of, how do we follow and support what neighbors see as most important, and giving the authority to their expertise to guide us and to think about our own process for deadlines and intake to make it easier for neighbors to get the benefits and the assistance that they need.”

During the co-design process, NKCDC staffers met with about 12 Kensington community leaders at least monthly to provide intensive trauma-informed training, said Tess Donie, the org’s associate community engagement director. Additionally, five NKCDC employees completed trauma-informed training at the Sanctuary Institute, a New York-based program that helps organizations better provide services to vulnerable populations by creating a “trauma-informed community.”

With the Kresge funding, NKCDC will apply these principles internally to its own services, instead of applying them primarily to community residents.

“This grant with Kresge is actually using those principles and everything we’ve learned as an organization in working with some of these community leaders to reorganize how we do housing services,” Donie said, “and be able to engage with the community in more effective ways in order to get people access to services that will mitigate housing instability.”

Community organizations being trauma-informed is important because it creates a safe space where residents will trust service administrators, helping establish relationships, Tice said. He sees the potential for a positive impact in implementing trauma-informed approaches in Kensington, as the neighborhood “is incredibly complicated right now.”

“Helping to engage with that, to break down our barriers to help reduce the stigma while also simultaneously helping to bring people in in an inclusive way is incredibly valuable,” Tice said. “It’s hard work, but it’s very valuable work.”

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