What is Trauma?

The word “trauma” is used to describe an experience that is physically or emotionally harmful with long lasting adverse effects. This can be from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances. Trauma can impact an individual’s mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.

At POAH, our definition is “a personal, negative experience that is just too much to handle”

Trauma is widespread and pervasive: Over 60% of American adults have experienced one form of trauma. That number increases when you include experiences of racism or discrimination, such as gentrification, housing displacement, discriminatory housing policies, and other forms of marginalization. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic was also traumatizing.

Not all trauma is equal: People can experience trauma at various scales and in different contexts. Within the context of affordable housing, the most common realms are:

  1. Childhood/Household: trauma experienced in the most personal, intimate sense, often in the home or family;

  2. Home/Property: trauma experienced by an individual or group of residents at a property,

  3. Climate: trauma caused by environmental or natural factors,

  4. Community: trauma experienced by a group of people because of an event or community conditions,

  5. Systemic: which is trauma caused by systems of oppression.

Hover over each number to learn more:
Domains of Trauma Diagram


The effects of trauma are multifaceted and lasting: Left unaddressed, traumatic experiences can impact our body, brain and behavior. In the 1990s, a landmark study by Kaiser Permanente demonstrated the connection between childhood trauma, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, and long-term health outcomes. The study found that ACEs and associated social determinants of health, such as living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, frequently moving, and experiencing food insecurity, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress). Toxic stress from ACEs can negatively affect children’s brain development, immune systems, and stress-response systems. These changes not only can affect children’s physical health, but also their attention, decision-making, and learning.

Children become adults. Adults become residents, lease holders and housing staff. The effects of trauma in childhood and adulthood can have an impact on other areas of our lives, including our experience in housing.


Learn more about the connection between trauma and housing

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