Homelessness as a traumatic experience can lead to PTSD in a number of ways. First, the actual event of becoming homeless can lead to trauma through the loss of (a) stable shelter; and (b) family connections and accustomed social roles and routines. Second, the ongoing condition of homelessness and its attendant stressors, such as the uncertainty of where to find food and safe shelter, can erode a person’s coping mechanisms. Third, homelessness might serve as a breaking point for those who have pre-existing behavioral health conditions or a history of traumatization.
According to one study, “a literature review found consistent and well-documented evidence of high levels of multiple forms of traumatic stress within individuals and families who are homeless.” The presence of stress is to be expected in these populations. That it rises to the level of trauma might come as a surprise, but “researchers have documented that the rates of traumatic stress are extremely high, and may even be normative, among those experiencing homelessness.” This reality is about “more than the absence of physical shelter, it is a stress-filled, dehumanizing, dangerous circumstance.”